What is Internal Family Systems (IFS)

Dick Schwartz, who created IFS, identifies a multiplicity of what he calls sub personalities which we refer to as parts. We all have parts. We speak about a part of us that wants to go out and another part of us that wants to stay in. So you can see how parts can become polarized with one another. Polarizations often create inner tension or conflict.

It is important to remember that all parts have specific functions and roles within the system. So all parts are good and trying to help us in some way. It is just that sometimes we over blend with a part. When we over blend with a part we can’t see the bigger picture. We might not have enough space to choose how we want to respond to a situation. Haven’t we all been there? We get triggered and the next thing we know we are raising our voice toward someone we love?

It is important to remember that we are not our parts. Our Self space is who we are. This is the space that we are able to hold awareness to all of our parts. When we are in this space we experience compassion, clarity, centeredness, connection, creativity, curiosity, courage  and confidence. When parts are working together, we experience greater ease and joy in creating the life we long for. 

Parts through a Yogic Lens

In IFS parts are broken down into three main categories: proactive managers, reactive firefighters, and exiles. Proactive managers try to control and plan as to prevent pain. Reactive firefighters try to numb pain when it arises. Exiles hold pain and trauma that becomes buried within our system to protect us from experiencing negative feelings.

Managers may take the form of: critic, judge, helper, rebel, helper, scheduler, teacher, controller, warrior, hero, perfections.

Fire fighters may show up as an: overachiever, pleasure seeker, substance abuse, over indulge, comedian, dissociation, distractions, and self harm. 

Exiles may show up as: sadness, wounded child, dependence, sensitivity, victim, shame, innocence, anger. 

What do parts want? They want to be heard, seen, validated, and loved. We need all of our parts to do their jobs, but their beliefs and behaviors are often driven by Kleshas. In Yoga, Kleshas are the root causes of our suffering. They are as follows:

  • Vidya (ignorance): the misconception of our one true reality

  • Asmita (ego-self): identification with ourselves

  • Raga (attachment): desire for pleasurable experiences and things

  • Devsha (repulsion): aversion toward what we perceive as unpleasant

  • Abhinivesha (will to live) our fear of death

(For more about the Kelsha visit the Himalayan Institute Kleshas: Understanding the Afflictions)

Parts form from samskaras (subtle impressions from past experiences) or vasanas (larger impressions that can be created from several samskaras) to become the asmita/ego-self. 

A part develops to help us 

  • survive or cope

  • protect us from painful feelings, memories, and/or beliefs

  • get things done 

  • motivate us to do our best

Every part is good but no part is Self.

Self Space through a Yogic Lens

When we cultivate greater awareness of our parts we gain access to Self. The Self in yoga is an awakened Budhhi where we can witness the activity of the field. It is curious, has no agenda, aversion or preference, feels genuinely calm and compassionate, is confident to lead the system with clarity and courage, and is connected to inner guidance. 

From this space we experience: less triggered emotional states; confidently make life affirming choices; access to internal resources for healing and guidance; understanding of the mind, body, energy, and spirit connection; become happier, healthier, more fulfilled versions of oneself. 

When Self leads the system, parts can: trust the gratitude, acceptance, compassion and decisions of the Self; do their jobs at appropriate times; step back when not needed; be open to new possibilities and shift out of disempowering perspective; make space for & work in harmony with other parts. 


Click here to learn more about IFS Coaching


Deep respect and gratitude to the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali, and my teacher and colleague Karina Ayne Mirsky for the embodiment of these practices.

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