When to Switch Target Parts

BK001-Self Therapy-aThis excerpt, When to Switch Target Parts, is from my upcoming book, Self-Therapy, Vol. 2, which is an advanced book on IFS.

Let’s suppose you have chosen a protector to work on, called your target part. As you are getting to know it, another part may emerge. It is best to take a moment to feel the new part’s emotions or body sensations and perhaps ask it a question or two. Then make a conscious choice about whether to ask it to step aside so you can continue with your original target part or whether to switch and make the new part your target part.

The following are reasons why you might switch target parts:

  • A concerned part or protector won’t step aside.
  • An important new part arises.
  • A part arises that is usually not accessible.
  • A part insists on being heard.
  • The target part is afraid of another part.
  • The target part takes orders from another part.

The following are reasons why you might stay with your origins target part:

  • You want to finish with the target part.
  • You haven’t finished with any parts.
  • The target part feels ignored by you.

How do you tend to deal with the question of switching target parts? There are healthy and problematic ways of doing this. One problematic way is the Scattered Pattern, which involves following each new part that arises without making a conscious choice to do so. Whenever a new part pops up, even if you are in the middle of working with a different part, you turn your attention to the new part without even considering whether or not this is a good idea.

If you do this very often, your work will end up being scattered. You will get pulled this way and that. Every new part will take you off in a new direction, and you won’t make much progress with any one part. You will bounce around in your psyche, not getting far enough along with the steps of the IFS process for real therapeutic change to happen.

The opposite extreme is the Rigid Pattern, which involves being so focused on staying with your target part that you ignore other parts that arise. You are like a horse with blinders on. Or, if you notice another part, you immediately ask it to step aside without acknowledging it or considering its importance.

Here are some of the problems that can result from the Rigid Pattern:

  1. You might overlook a part that is crucial to work on that day. For various reasons, a part that spontaneously arises might be important to deal with, and you won’t realize this because of your single-mindedness.
  2. A part may spontaneously arise that has an important relationship to your target part. It might be polarized with the target part. It might be an exile being protected by the target part. It might be allied with the target part. You don’t want to ignore a part like this; you want to get to know it because this will help your work with the original target part.
  3. The parts that are arising and being ignored might become resentful and sabotage your work with the original target part.