Internal Family Systems Model


I was cleaning in my art room yesterday afternoon and I cleared off my desk (at least enough to reclaim some functional space) and my eyes landed on my mandala book.  Even though it wasn’t the usual time to draw a mandala, I decided to open the book and the above drawing is what wanted to be put on paper.

Internal Family Systems Model

Last week, the Nutritionist gave me a book to read called Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide To Your Inner Life. She had mentioned it at the prior session, so I took a look at it on Amazon and I already hated it by the time she lent it to me.  However, I tried to read it.  It isn’t the content of the book that bugs me, it is the writing style and the illustrations.  It feels dumbed down and annoying to me.  Or maybe I am just a snob…I don’t know.

However, I didn’t want her to think that I was unwilling to do the work, and I was kind of curious about the premise of the book (though I found the book muddy in terms of presenting a foundation for the content).  On the back cover there was a reference to “IFS”.  So…I Googled it.

IFS=Internal Family Systems which is a psychological model that I am totally unfamiliar with.  Here’s an excerpt from the website, The Center for Self Leadership

  2. It is the nature of the mind to be subdivided into an indeterminate number of subpersonalities or parts.
  3. Everyone has a Self, and the Self can and should lead the individual’s internal system.
  4. The non-extreme intention of each part is something positive for the individual. There are no “bad” parts, and the goal of therapy is not to eliminate parts but instead to help them find their non-extreme roles.
  5. As we develop, our parts develop and form a complex system of interactions among themselves; therefore, systems theory can be applied to the internal system. When the system is reorganized, parts can change rapidly.
  6. Changes in the internal system will affect changes in the external system and vice versa. The implication of this assumption is that both the internal and external levels of system should be assessed.

So, I get this for the most part.  For example, if anxiety is a subpersonality, with the goal of protecting us from danger, it will “pop” up and try to keep us safe.  In and of itself, this is not bad, but when the anxiety overpowers other subpersonalities and the Self such that one cannot make a trip to the grocery store, then it becomes an issue.  The Self (whoever that is) needs to be strong enough to manage the subpersonalities when they get overbearing.

Further into the theory, it is pointed out that the subpersonalities (which they oddly call “parts”) interact and are broadly divided into three different parts. Again, an excerpt from that same website.

    1. Young parts that have experienced trauma and often become isolated from the rest of the system in an effort to protect the individual from feeling the pain, terror, fear, and so on, of these parts
    2. If exiled, can become increasingly extreme and desperate in an effort to be cared for and tell their story
    3. Can leave the individual feeling fragile and vulnerable
    1. Parts that run the day-to-day life of the individual
    2. Attempt to keep the individual in control of every situation and relationship in an effort to protect parts from feeling any hurt or rejection
    3. Can do this in any number of ways or through a combination of parts — striving, controlling, evaluating, caretaking, terrorizing, and so on.
    1. Group of parts that react when exiles are activated in an effort to control and extinguish their feelings
    2. Can do this in any number of ways, including drug or alcohol use, self-mutilation (cutting), binge-eating, sex binges
    3. Have the same goals as managers (to keep exiles away) but different strategies

I understand this section, though I am so unfamiliar with the terminology that it is hard to wrap my head around.  And I am not sure that I buy the whole concept.

Now, she gave me this book because somehow it is related to eating disorders.  Maybe the super-controlling eating disorder is a part (subpersonality)? And I am supposed to strengthen my Self to control that part?  I am going to attempt to look at the book again now that I have some understanding of the theory behind it….But I am still not sold on it yet.

I am working hard to be compliant with her request to read the book (I am a people-pleaser, after all!) but I feel like it is a big set up for failure.  Luckily, I don’t see her until Thursday, so I have some time to try to get my head into the book.

Thursday is going to be a yucky day.  Art Therapy in the morning (not yucky, just hard) then Nutritionist (yucky) and then my Primary who is going to weigh me and then talk with me about my eating problems again (yucky).  I am also kind of scared to talk to my Primary, because one of the things she had mentioned when I saw her last week is that if I don’t change my eating habits, they might have to hospitalize me.  I kind of dismissed it as being part of her education on the impact of eating disorders…But then I asked them to email me a copy of my Nutritionist summary from last week, and they emailed me the wrong thing…It wasn’t the summary for me, it was the summary with the Nutritionist’s notes and write-up for my records.  She mentioned inpatient treatment in her note too.  The prospect of inpatient treatment has caused me a lot of stress…I don’t even know what to think about it.  <sigh>

Okay, I don’t have to be anxious about it right now…It is Monday, so I get my hour of security with the AT, which I am really looking forward to.  I feel like need that safe zone right now and I am glad to be going.

1 thought on “Internal Family Systems Model

  1. Makes sense to me. I have had a hard time curbing the underlying anxiety about what is going on with my body because of just that, no one really knows, and a dangerous condition continues. So does my anxiety. I am finally able to feel the anxiety but not let it override good judgement but only because I feel I have come to a source where I believe the problem can be figured out and a plan put in place. And I’m also not in immediate danger, although that fear is nipping at me like a shark, and I have to work at curbing it.
    Maybe you feel you are in immediate danger from memories. So you control it, and won’t allow them up by, ‘I won’t eat.’ All the focus is on eating or not eating, but what lies underneath all that? Memories are painful, horrendous, scary, but they are memories. If this is what is happening, the memories can’t hurt you, you already suffered through it, they are just memories. You will be OK.
    Whatever ‘part’ is working over-time, be it over or under doing anything, one is propelled into those behaviors because something else is very wrong or painful. Only when the underlying emotional pain or problem, or in my case, medical problem, is dealt with, can the other ways of dealing with whatever is going on beneath it be let go of.

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