Internal Family Systems (IFS)
The Internal Family Systems model provides an elegantly simple yet profound way to understand ourselves and how we function in relationships.
IFS sees consciousness as composed of three types of subpersonalities or parts: managers, exiles, and firefighters. Each individual part has its own perspective, interests, memories, and viewpoint. A core tenet of IFS is that every part has a positive intent for the person, even if its actions or effects are counterproductive or cause dysfunction. This means that there is never any reason to fight with, coerce, or try to eliminate a part; the IFS method promotes internal connection and harmony.
Parts can have either "extreme roles" or healthy roles. IFS focuses on parts in extreme roles because they are in need of transformation through therapy. IFS divides these parts into three types—managers, exiles, and firefighters.
Managers are parts with preemptive protective roles. They handle the way a person interacts with the external world to protect them from being hurt by others and try to prevent painful or traumatic feelings and experiences from flooding a person's awareness.
Exiles are parts that are in pain, shame, fear, or trauma, usually from childhood. Managers and firefighters try to exile these parts from consciousness, to prevent this pain from coming to the surface.
Firefighters are parts that emerge when exiles break out and demand attention. These parts work to distract a person's attention from the hurt or shame experienced by the exile by leading them to engage in impulsive behaviors like overeating, drug use, violence, or having inappropriate sex. They can also distract from the pain by causing a person to focus excessively on more subtle activities such as overworking or over-medicating.
IFS also sees people as being whole, underneath this collection of parts. Everyone has a true self or spiritual center, known as the Self to distinguish it from the parts. Even people whose experience is dominated by parts have access to this Self and its healing qualities of curiosity, connectedness, compassion, and calmness.
IFS sees the therapist's job as helping the client to disentangle themselves from their parts and access the Self, which can then connect with each part and heal it, so that the parts can let go of their destructive roles and enter into a harmonious collaboration, led by the Self. IFS explicitly recognizes the spiritual nature of the Self, allowing the model to be helpful in spiritual development as well as psychological healing.
The movie "Inside Out" best portrays how parts influence our thinking about ourselves.