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How Internal Family Systems Can Help You Connect To Your True Self

Written by: Kylie Feller, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


We hear of connecting to one’s true self but how does one actually do this? I feel like we know we are not our anxiety, worries, fears or shame yet for many people these parts play a major role in their life. I wondered; how do we heal these parts of us that seem so disconnected from who we really are?

Often in our culture, we examine parts of us and determine which ones are “good” and which ones are “bad” then work to get rid of the bad ones. What if though no parts of you were bad? Instead, what if every part of you was actually trying to protect you? What if the parts of you that seem "bad" had to adopt survival strategies at certain points of your life to protect you that made sense then but do not now?

What if instead of trying to get rid of parts of you, you instead became curious about why they do what they do with the understanding they are trying to help? And instead of trying to get rid of them, you helped them transform, so they can really help you in your present moment life.

Would you be interested in inner transformation rather than internal war?

When we try to disown or get rid of certain parts of us, they just get further pushed down into the basement of our psyche. From there they continue to impact our beliefs and behaviours which impact our life and well-being. I am sure you have experienced this yourself? How has it worked out when you have tried to disown or get rid of parts of yourself? It hasn’t really worked, has it?

There is an approach known as Internal Family System that has created a way you can access your internal world to create inner understanding and transformation with your True Self. By connection to curiosity and compassion, you are connecting to your True Self. A healing power in you that can create inner transformation and harmony so you can develop Self-Leadership.

What is Internal Family Systems?

Internal Family System is a transformative evidenced-based model of psychotherapy. It was developed by Richard Schwartz in the 1990s although the ideas behind the model have been echoed throughout history. This model believes the mind is naturally multiple, consisting of sub-personalities. Our inner parts have valuable qualities along with our core Self, which is an internal healing force, which allows us to be integrated and whole.

This new approach is empowering as it offers people a way to harmonize the mind and the belief that anything can be healed. That as human beings we can heal and create a compassionate inner and outer world. Therefore, this approach is non-pathologizing and sees many diagnostic labels as parts that are burdened with pain and in need of understanding and healing.

In this model there are “no bad parts” of you, instead, there are just parts that have taken on different roles to protect you based on your life experiencing. What a relief eh? In this model, parts can have three main roles and then there is a central True Self that exists in everyone.

Your Internal Family of Parts

Exiles: These are parts of us that carry our pain or trauma that may have resulted in childhood. These can include Big T traumas that include more obvious traumatic experiences like abuse or major losses and also small t traumas such as having parents that struggle with their mental health, experiencing childhood illness, parents being busy or working away, being bullied, experiencing divorce etc.

Children often have a way of internalizing what is going on growing up as being their fault or as if they have some ability to control it and when they cannot they believe they are bad. These feelings and beliefs are too much for a child to carry to parts of us known as exiles are banished to the basement of our consciousness and other parts like managers and firefighters are developed to protect us from these emotions reaching consciousness so proper coping and functioning can continue.

Managers: These parts of us are responsible for maintaining our daily functioning. When they are protecting exiles, they work to help us avoid situations that might result in us feeling hurt or rejected. They can do this through a number of different ways such as controlling, striving, caretaking, evaluating, judging, working, evaluating, criticizing, etc.

Firefighters: These parts are similar to managers in that they protect us from feeling the pain of the exiles, but they do this differently. These parts of us are more explosive at times and do not care what the consequences are they just want to extinguish and control the feeling of the exiles when they are activated. They can do this by using alcohol or drugs, through self-harm, binge eating, binge tv watching etc.

True Self: The True Self is at the centre of everyone; it is the seat of consciousness. The Self is defined as having a number of positive qualities known as the 8Cs: Curious, Compassionate, Calm, Connection, Confidence, Clarity, Creativity, and Courage. This is the observing part of us that is wise, accepting and healing.

As you seek to understand your parts, they will unblend and you will experience this aspect of your being. From this place you can heal exiles that are burdened with pain and trauma so they can reclaim their original roles in your system that support you in living your best life with the True Self leading.

This approach is best experienced. I will outline some exercises you can do to help to build inner self-leadership in your system. There are also great guided meditations by Richard Schwartz on the app Insight timer that can help you gain access to your parts so you can begin healing them and leading from your True Self.

5 Steps to Begin Accessing Self-Leadership

1. Notice Your Parts

As you read through this article which parts did you notice in your own system? Maybe you have a strong manager who organizes your life? Maybe a strong inner critic who motivates you with shame and guilt, maybe you have a part that keeps you really busy or a part that puts you in bed and takes away your motivation? Take a minute and notice your different parts and jot them down on paper. Throughout your day continue to notice the different parts of you that help you navigate your life.

2. Become Curious and Find the Part Inside

Let's choose a part that you are curious about and would like to get to know better. Maybe it's your inner critic or a part that has low motivation? Take a couple of nice deep breaths and become curious about how this part shows up in your body or head? When you think about this part what do you notice shift in your body? Maybe you can visualize this part and see it as a cartoon or younger version of you. As you sense this part, can this part notice you are becoming aware of it, that you are noticing it? Can it sense it is not alone?

3. Notice How You Feel Towards Parts?

As you notice this part of you ask yourself internally how you feel towards this part? This question might activate other parts of you that might be polarized to this part, they might not like it or are frustrated by it or scared of it etc. Just notice and as you do see if these parts would give you some space by stepping back so you can be with this part. If not find out their fears about what would happen if they did? Reassure them that by being with it you are not allowing it to just take over but rather are going there to help it.

If you have some curiosity about the target part you started to work with, you can go to the next step and start a dialogue. If your polarized or aligned parts can’t step back then focus on them and be curious with them and start a dialogue with them until they can trust you.

4. Start A Dialogue

When you have some curiosity about a part that is coming from your heart you can begin a dialogue. Ask the part if it can notice you being curious about it? If so what would it like to share with you about it? What would it like you to see or feel? When was this part of you formed? How old is it? How old does it see you as being now? If it is younger than you are now, show it you in the present moment. What is this part afraid will happen to you if it does not do what it does? Is it protecting a younger more vulnerable part of you? What does this part need from you? Spend time getting to know this part so it feels really understood by you. Resist making assumptions, when you do have one just check with the part to see if it is right and you are really understanding it.

5. Make It a Practice

Taking time to go inside with your parts through meditation or journaling will help you develop Self-Leadership. This process takes times so developing this into a daily or weekly practice will help you gain more access to your True Self as you begin to understand and develop a connection to your parts. As you get to know parts you may also notice that they change, there is a lot more to them then what appears at first, stay curious and open to developing this deeper relationship with yourself.

Doing this alone can be difficult as many people have a number of protectors that have worked your whole life to keep you away from your pain, so going inside can be scary to them. If you are struggling to go inside and would like some guidance, feel free to reach out. Once you have been guided inside a few times it becomes a lot easier to do on your own. Reach out if you are curious about how this approach might help you develop true Self-Leadership.

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Kylie Feller, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Kylie Feller, M.A., is a registered clinical counsellor and life coach. She specializes in helping people understand and heal trauma while connecting them to their own innate healing force, their True Self. She believes that there is nothing people cannot heal and that all individuals can thrive and flourish if given the right formula. She has also launched an online program to help individuals navigate dating in a way that promotes greater growth and healing called, Swipe Right into Loving Yourself. She is a trained Internal Family Systems therapist, Empowerment Coach, Akashic Record Coach, Reiki Healer, and Yoga Teacher. She works with individuals one-on-one online helping them to access inner transformation so they can truly succeed in all levels of life.





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