The mind-blowing family within

The mind-blowing family within

I went on a workshop recently about Internal Family Systems. It’s a method of therapy that’s very popular in America and is gaining traction here now that neuroscience is backing up many of its assumptions.

To summarise; we have a huge family living inside us! These are our ‘parts’ and they all serve different but altruistic purposes. When we are in harmony and life is sweet, we are acting with our Core-Self in charge. Core-self is calm, centred, curious, compassionate and a whole lot of other ‘c’ words (none of them bad ones!). Problems come to us, when our Protection System kicks in. These are parts that mean well (protecting us for e.g. from future hurts) that overwhelm us and send us off-kilter (take charge from Core-Self).

Therapy or ‘healing’ takes the form of working out your ‘parts’ and talking to them all individually to calm them down, make them feel valued and safe (no annihilating, smashing or overpowering involved), and to take the ‘burden’ off them so they can relax and let Core-Self be in charge.

The theory I found very simple. The practice is a bit more tricky. These parts can explode into hundreds and then they not only act out, but they blend with others AND with the core-self. For the therapist, the job is being a mediator and peace-maker, giving them all the chance to express themselves and discuss their concerns and sometimes negotiate what other job they can do in our system, instead.

In a video tutorial, it was wonderful to see Richard Schwarts (the founder) unravel this guy’s parts and then unburden the extreme ones of their behaviour. This guy chose to leave it (the extreme behaviour NOT the part) in a canyon as an offering to the spirits.

I remember being taught a trick of getting a box, putting in bad feelings or grief/loss and burying it out in the garden. This therapy is the polar opposite. Nothing gets buried, everything gets aired, negotiated, re-alighted and balanced. The parts turn out to be tired and frightened and when you offer to unburden them and let the Core-Self take charge, they’re relieved. Meanwhile, you haven’t tried to dismiss or kill them off.

And that’s why it’s like a family! You might have all sorts of complicated and confusing relationships with them, but ultimately they are all family and the best solution is finding some form of balance and harmony with it.

Apart from the way this therapy is so permissive and the therapist is a mediator rather than a guide, I love the way it allows conflict and confusion and works with instead of against it. The NHS and insurance companies are so hot on CBT and giving it to depressed or off-kilter patients. However, a lot of the techniques challenge, dismiss or exile people’s parts (thoughts, feelings, behaviour) which not only ‘hurts’ them but makes them double the attack if they haven’t been killed.

If this is of interest, you can read more about Internal Family Systems at