Ask yourself this deceptively simple-sounding question, “Who am I?” and you may find that questions like these are easier asked than answered.
For instance, who you experience yourself to be may change depending on who you are with. With your parents, you may find yourself dropping into some of the mannerisms, thoughts, and opinions you held as the child-you. With your spouse, you may experience yourself as an odd assortment of relational habits you attribute to either your mom’s or your dad’s influence. With your child, you may struggle to reconcile the deep love and enthusiasm you feel for being a parent with your own all-too-human personal desire for a return to the unscheduled free time and rest that you enjoyed as a single person.
Your sense of yourself may be equally fluid – and elusive – depending on where you are. Facing a schedule that includes a full day of work, a quick after-work visit to the gym, and a later dinner date, you may find yourself keeping company with a completely different you as you move through your day. At work, work-you is task-oriented, focused, forgetting to eat until the hunger in your belly yells “LUNCH!” and you quickly hurry off to check that item off your to-do list. At the gym, gym-you counts calories and berates yourself for your earlier choices as the treadmill spins. And at dinner, over a relaxing glass of wine, you witness how dinner-you casually shoves gym-you aside as you go for your favorite high-calorie dessert – tres leches.
So who are you? Which you is “the” you?
Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a new therapeutic discipline that provides a roadmap by which the intrapersonally inquisitive student can begin to find his or her own both accurate and self-respectful answer to this question.
Students of IFS recognize and accept that “the you” they are tempted to conceptualize as a single discrete identity is actually a diverse collection of parts called “sub-personalities”. These parts can range from the inner critic to the abandoned child to the people pleaser to the anger-monger to the scapegoat to the loving caretaker and so on.
As students of IFS, we work to identify and learn from each part. As our investigation unfolds, we begin to perceive how each part relates to each other part within us in helpful and sometimes not-so-helpful ways. As we learn from each part about the memories, associations, assumptions, perceptions, dreams, goals, and aspirations it carries within it, we become more attuned to how that part subtly shapes and drives our conscious behavior. With this awareness, we can work with each part to transform for the better its relationship with the other parts of us, with us-now, and with the world around us.
The true power of IFS, however, comes from the compassion we begin to develop towards each part of ourselves. Once we know that part’s story, past, present, and persistent hopes for the future, we cease to resist or fight its involvement or influence and start instead to seek a common good. IFS promotes a deep inner empathy with and affinity towards not just us-now but towards all our parts, as we recognize that we have each been employing different means to achieve the same shared goals for acceptance, success, love, meaning, and joy in life.
Lest a student of IFS begin to suspect that they suffer from multiple personality disorder, however, there is one more important basic component of IFS work that is worth mentioning.
IFS practitioners recognize that we are at our core spiritual beings, centered in what IFS calls “the Self”. The Self is nurturing, stable, and full of compassion. The Self exemplifies the best us that we can be, and reminds us that as we learn to stay centered in our sense of ourselves as “the Self”, we are then able to begin to repair, restore, and re-energize our tangled relationships with each of our parts. As the Self, we can help our parts to heal, heal ourselves, and develop a relationship with our own life that is both inspiring and empowering.
At Southlake Counseling, we have invested more than two decades in assisting you with your personal growth and development goals. We are strong proponents of Internal Family Systems therapy as a powerful and effective tool to help you learn how to say “no” to self-limiting thoughts, behaviors, and relational patterns and YES to your dream of being the best you that you can be. If you are ready to explore how IFS can help you achieve your personal growth and wellness goals, contact us today at www.southlakecounseling.com.