Have you ever been in a positive mood only to have something seemingly very small happen, perhaps someone made a casual off-handed criticism of you, but for some weird reason you felt immediately deflated, and found yourself feeling almost like a child again, small, afraid, and helpless?
Have you ever lost your temper with someone you really care about, maybe even someone you love very much, but suddenly you found yourself saying things and acting in ways that were not the way you really feel about that person, and later you regretted your actions deeply?
Have you ever really wanted to find the motivation to do something in your life, like start a new diet plan for example, but despite all your best efforts, you felt as if something was sabotaging you, and maybe you even found yourself standing in front of an open refrigerator at midnight, staring longingly at the rest of that chocolate cake?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, there is nothing to worry about, and you are certainly not alone.
In fact, from the viewpoint of “Internal Family Systems” (IFS), you are perfectly normal.
The problem in each of these situations is simply a part (or parts) that is over-reacting. In the first case, there is a part that is holding you back that you’re not aware of. In the second, there is a part that exploded in anger.
Most of us prefer to think of ourselves as one, unitary, sensible personality. But human beings are not as simple and straightforward as we may like to think.
In reality, we are complex systems of interacting parts, each with a variety of emotions and motivations.
IFS has a sophisticated way of working with your “parts,” which are natural divisions in the psyche, sometimes called subpersonalities. This approach has been rapidly spreading across the entire country for the past decade and is being applauded by patients and therapists for its incredible effectiveness.
To return to the diet example above, when you find yourself standing in front of your open refrigerator late at night, staring at that second slice of chocolate cake, this isn’t just a desire that comes up from time to time. It’s actually more accurate to see this craving for cake as a separate entity, a distinct part of your psyche that, for its own reasons, frequently craves a feeling of sweet chocolaty fullness.
Likewise, your desire to lose weight in the first place is also a distinct part of you. Perhaps it wants you to look and feel attractive and be in control.
Now, what happens when you snatch that cake out of the fridge and wolf it down? Soon after, you may hear a voice in your mind criticizing you, saying things such as, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” “You are so out control!” “You are going to get even fatter now.”
These criticisms are coming from yet another part of you.
You can think of these parts as little people inside of you. Each with their own perspectives, beliefs, feelings, memories, and motivations.
Some of your parts are in pain. Some of your parts want to protect you from pain. Some of your parts try to manage how you interact with others. Some of your parts are even locked in battles with each other that have been going on for years.
And most of the time, all of this is completely outside our awareness.
All we know is that sometimes we feel great, sometimes we feel nervous, sometimes we feel frustrated, confused, angry, and so on. And if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t really understand why.