As part of our IFS blog series, we will be discussing the common "parts" that show up for many of us. Parts are the different sub-personalities of the psyche that form over time as a result of early childhood environmental contexts. Parts develop as an intelligent adaptive response to a lack of safety.
This blog will cover:
To gain a broader perspective of your psyche, I'm going to provide you with a visual metaphor to articulate the different elements at play.
I want you to imagine for a moment that your psyche is like the solar system: a collection of comets, moons, and planetary bodies. Just like the solar system, which is a collection of orbiting planets with different properties, your internal system contains all of these different parts too, some of them that behave like planets. Each planetary body is composed of various parts within it, creating a tone and felt experience that is different from the other planets.
Each entity has their own set of beliefs, stories, and movement patterns that express what it means to be alive. Within the solar system, all of these planetary bodies are in relationship to each other and are united by their orbit around the sun, the light of consciousness.
Your internal family system is like a mirror of the solar system. Each planetary body comprises various qualities, characters, and ways of experiencing. Ideally, all of them would orient and orbit your inner light source or your internal sun known as the Self.
There are a few planetary bodies, including the sun that have been clearly identified. These include:
Wounded Child (Exiles)
Next, I will introduce you to the essence of each of these parts: the sun and planetary bodies within your internal system.
Self: The Sun & Center
The Self is your vital source of light, warmth and inner nourishment. Just like the sun at the center of the solar system, you also have an inner center - a source of light that we like refer to as your true Self. The Self is an omnipresent sacred quality dwelling within your body. This inner sun is consistent, unwavering, clear, calm and is connected to the loving source of existence itself. Some might refer to this as your spiritual center.
You know when you are in Self when you feel completely at home. It is your rightful place of belonging to dwell within this core, this inner space of Self. I like to call this place my inner home. A home where I feel relaxed, centered, emotionally at ease, trusting and safe. When you feel the presence of Self, you feel secure, connected, love, purpose, and worthiness. You are engaged, have access to inherent wisdom and are clear for receiving insight. Self accepts all of you and others; it is attuned and has the capacity to listen deeply.
Just like the sun, the self is an inexhaustible fountain of light, whose power is a love and devotion to serve life. The Self is key to healing, harmonizing and integrating your disparate, fragmented parts through its compassion, curiosity and connectedness. It can heal your wounds and allow parts to reclaim their natural role of serving the light source within you, your inherent truth.
Self is the natural leader of your internal system. It has the courage to expand its edges, the perspective to see clearly, the creativity to find constructive and harmonizing solutions, and the calmness to be patient and still. The Self is balanced and fair, and notices what needs to happen. Ideally, it is the one who makes the decisions and takes action.
When you are in Self, you can heal your parts by guiding them towards working together as a harmonious inner family, or solar system, so that they can support your flowering in the world.
You most likely have experienced glimpses of the Self, and you might know this loving source of wisdom very well. However, it's quite normal that as you go about your day-to-day you experience periods of interference. This is when other parts come online and obscure your inner light. When this happens, it's often the case that you may begin to operate out of a particular parts framework, seeing the world through their lens. This is called becoming blended with your parts. It is when the center of your solar system is shifts toward the gravitational pull of another part, creating inner chaos, confusion and conflict.
8 Healing Rays
Self is oriented towards love, and carries 8 healing rays to liberate your shadowed parts from pain and suffering. These healing rays contain the four elemental medicines.
Ray of Calm (water)
When you live from your shadowed parts, you most likely feel a constant tension in your body, like a tightly wound spring, that makes you hyper-vigilant and agitated. This state of physical arousal can activate frustration, irritability, and reactivity. Your mind then reflects this somatic experience with racing, future and task oriented thoughts. As you cultivate the healing Ray of Calmn, you notice a decrease in worries, a sensation of trust and inner ease. The rushing waves of thoughts and emotions are observed from a calm inner still-point that witnesses the experience of the ocean without being taken over by it.
Ray of Compassion (water)
When the Ray of Compassion shines through, your are able tenderly touch into your own humanity. There are many inner critics seeking perfection and judging all of your perceived failures. This can easily obscure your inner light. Compassion gazes into the shadows with a warming ray of softness, love and tender presence. Compassion understands the human experience of suffering, and offers an open heart of love without feeling a need to fix, change or be distant.
Ray of Clarity (Air)
The Ray of Clarity is like having what Buddhists refer to as a ‘beginner’s mind’, a view in which there are many possibilities because of the absence of preconception and projection. (2)Richard Swartz defines clarity as, "the ability to perceive situations without distortion from extreme beliefs and emotions- seeing through the eyes of Self.” (2) He goes on to share a story: “A man whose axe was missing suspected his neighbor’s son. The boy walked like a thief, looked like a thief, and spoke like a thief. Soon the man found his axe while he was digging in the valley, and the next time he saw his neighbor's son, the boy walked, looked and spoke like any other child.” (2) Sometimes it can be challenging to see a person or situation when the past stories and experiences of your parts take over.
Ray of Curiosity (Air)
The Ray of Curiosity is like the wonder, and inquisitiveness of a child. There is an innocent interest without pre-judgements or conclusions. When you can explore your inner landscape with curiosity, you get to know your parts in a new way.
Ray of Courage (Fire)
Courage is looking into the face of your fears with understanding. It is leaping from what is familiar, unjust, known and life-sucking onto fresh ground that is connected to your passions and purpose. It is choosing to listen to your own inner path that calls to you instead of the path that is expected of you. The Ray of Courage is like a fiery warrior, willing to go towards, look and be with the most frightening parts within you. It takes the Ray of Courage to look into the dark eyes of your fears.
Ray of Creativity (Fire)
The Ray of Creativity emerges from spaciousness, silence, and beingness. When you give yourself the nourishment you need, your creative expression awakens. The ray that inspires other lights is liberated, and you enter into a flow state of expression.
Ray of Confidence (Earth)
As you heal your parts, your critics relax and they become less susceptible to former provocations set off from past hurts. The Ray of Confidence is a sense of security and trust in the leadership of Self - a confidence that is rooted in integrity, values, trust, beauty and authenticity. The Ray of Confidence that shines from the Self is a power from within, rather than power sourced externally, such as wealth, status, and materialism.
Ray of Connection (Earth)
When you finally encounter someone who sees you for who you truly are, a deep inner thirst is finally quenched. This is a moment we can describe as a Self- to - Self connection. The more you embody Self, the more the Ray of Connection will reach towards those whose light also shines out from within the Self. The light within you recognizes the light in another. Authentic connection with other people opens and expands as you connect more intimately with your own inner parts.
Your inner protectors are often the unconscious voices, thoughts, and beliefs you hear the most. These are the parts that want to control everything in order to protect you from pain or from being hurt. They try to arrange your life and your psyche so that you are always in your comfort zone and you never feel hurt, shame or fear. Their main role is to control your relationships and environment so that you’re never in a vulnerable position of being humiliated, abandoned, rejected, attacked or hurt. Your protectors control your appearance, performance, emotions and thoughts in an effort to never be exposed: weak, dependent, needy, open, trusting, etc.
They attempt to protect you from hurtful incidents of distressing relationships in your current life that could bring up buried pain from childhood or the trauma that you experienced. Your protectors are constantly striving to preempt anything that might touch your wounded child, your exiles. They blame those vulnerable parts for getting you hurt and do anything to prevent vulnerability. There is a residual fear of events from long ago that involve abandonment, betrayal, judgment, abuse and disconnection. They fear being overwhelmed by the pain and shame of an exile, and are always on guard for events that might trigger that hurt.
Protectors are keen on preventing any pain from trauma being reactivated, so they employ a wide variety of strategies. Sometimes they block the pain by numbing, distracting, avoiding, or dismissing it. Others might try to rearrange your external world so that nothing happens to trigger pain that might be familiar by controlling, appeasing, performing, achieving and so on.
Protectors don’t realize they you aren't child anymore (since that is when they developed) or that there is a Self. They don’t know that you might be in a completely different environment and have more resources, support, education and strengths now compared to when you were a child. They continue to try to avoid any situation that might mirror what you experienced as a child. Many of your protectors continue to carry the stories, beliefs and ways of relating to your family and conditioned culture.
As an adult, you may approach your child-like protectors with resentment because you experience them as a constant inner chatter that activates those self-hatred voices, the fear that holds you back in relationships, the impulse to please others, the drive to achieve that consumes all of your energy, the feeling of victimhood, the sense of entitlement that makes you inconsiderate, and the doubt that creates confusion and division. (2)
Most of your protectors are overburdened with responsibility and often feel under-appreciated and unseen. They helped you to survive situations that were harmful to your innocence, and are doing their best to avoid the pain of that harm.
When you can shine the Rays of Self onto your protectors, you begin to acknowledge their roles, appreciate their efforts and unburden them from their responsibilities.
Other common planets within your internal solar system are the concerned planets. These are parts that come in and have negative attitudes, beliefs and feelings towards other parts. Their perceptions towards other parts can make getting to know protectors or other parts more challenging.
For example, when you feel judgmental, angry, or impatient towards yourself, you are most likely blended with a concerned part.
Below is a list provided by Jay Early of 6 common parts that can interfere with your ability to access other parts. (1)
Judgmental: these are the most common concerned parts. Judgmental parts might worry, feel angry and want to undermine other parts. Oftentimes a judgmental part will emerge suddenly with its evaluations, critics and opinions about that part.
Avoiders: these parts usually have strategies to prevent you from going deeper or staying with a part. They can distract you, be spacey or daydreamy, cause confusion or grab your attention away from the current part.
Intellectualizers: sometimes an intellectual observer that likes to phycho-analyze parts comes into play. Intellectualizers can offer valuable information and sometimes they can prevent you from being with the part. Intellectualizers like to have the part figured out as a way to feel a sense control, but this doesn't allow the part to share from its point of view.
Impatient: these are another common concerned part that really just want this healing work to be over already. They are in a hurry, label parts as resistant if they aren’t moving fast enough, or they have agendas to move quicker.
Inadequate: what is most important to know about inadequate parts is that you or them are not inadequate, they feel inadequate. Inadequate parts might feel judged, unworthy, incapable and critical towards you and other parts. Oftentimes, your inadequate parts need reassurance, patience and understanding.
Skeptics: the skeptical parts share all their doubts, and thoughts around how this cannot be trusted. Skeptics might be concerned about the validity of something, they might undermine you or the situation, or be hesitant about allowing access to a part, or be concerned about painful emotions.
Exiles: The Wounded Child
Exiles are young child parts that have suffered and felt the impact of trauma the most. They are the parts that are stuck carrying all the memories, sensations and emotions of a traumatic experience. They are often stuck, forzen or immbobilized at a particular time in childhood, at a specific situation, or memory. Your wounded child did not have the inner resources, external support or tools to process and metabolize these harms. This is why they are referred to as exiles, because in order to survive, they learned to shut down and stay hidden deep within the psyche. Conversely, your protectors are the ones working to prevent further pain from that trauma.
Your culture and families have an entire set of internalized beliefs around love, joy, play, creativity, expression and so on. As children, you are inherently playful, innocent, sensitive, attuned, intimacy-seeking, affectionate, and loving. You are placed in a culture and exposed to a family that is most likely fear-based, distracted, stressed, addicted, and love deprived. Your families inherited trauma from their parents and so the intergenerational trauma continues to be transferred, leaving your little child vulnerable to the passed down pain of being human on this planet.
You swim in the waters of cultural, familial and planetary trauma and are exposed to such an environment. In David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech called This Is Water, he writes:
“There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?”
Culture is the water you and all of us swim in every day. As children you absorb the ways of the world without realizing or even being able to understand all that is being transferred to your body, soul, mind and being.
Exiles take on the beliefs or the feeling tone of your family and their relationship to culture. For example, if your family was very unpredictable, critical and reactive, you will probably feel mistrust, unsafe, and harsh towards yourself. If your family treated each other with silence, strict behaviors and repression, you may have an exile that feels cold, dark and stuck. Exiles exhibit a wide variety of sensations or painful memories, from feeling lonely and abandoned to betrayed and abused, based on your upbringing and the hurt that you had to endure.
Along with sensation, exiles also carry negative beliefs about you and the world. You may have an exile that feels lonely and believes that you are unworthy of love, or that nobody wants to be close to you, or that you can’t get close to others. You might have an exile who believes you are responsible for your parent’s feelings. There might be some exiles that believe the world is intrinsically untrustworthy or believe that you are incapable of love. Exiles hold pain from your past and are pushed away by your protectors in an attempt to prevent the child within you from feeling those sensations again. They essentially get exiled from your inner life, placed in the dark so as to not emerge into the light where they will be felt once again.
An exile is usually caught in its own little world and is unaware that you have grown and developed new skills, techniques and practices for coping with that pain. You have a capacity to reach out, ask for guidance, make friends, and create a life. All the exile knows is that painful situation from your earlier life. The exile emerges whenever something happens in the present that is familiar to it. It then bubbles from the depths onto the surface, reactivating that pain, which then alerts all your protectors into high gear to prevent you from feeling it. Exiles aren’t always hidden. Sometimes they take over your consciousness despite your protectors. They may feel sadness, fear, shame, insecurity, or needy like a child because they are the wounded child in you.
No matter how hard your protectors try to hide away your wounded child, the survival terror and sense of worthlessness that your exiles carry become the governing forces in your life. The longing and hope in these parts is so powerful that even from their dungeon cells, they have an unconscious influence over your decisions. (2) They live in fear that something might trigger that sense of being unloved or unworthy, yet like a moth to a flame, you are constantly drawn to people and events that have the potential to release you from this painful curse. (2)
You re-experience the burdens of terror, loneliness, humiliation, abandonment, despair, or worthlessness that your exiles had been carrying for you. This is your protective parts’ worst nightmare, which is why they spend so much energy preventing this from happening. They build a fortress around the exile and convince them that being locked up is the only way to survive. Yet with the courage of Self, we can shatter the walls and begin to heal your exiles: rebirthing the pure, loving, expressive and innocent child within you.
Your psyche is a complex system of various orbiting parts with their own characteristics. With patience, commitment and skill, you can train your internal system to orient toward the Self at the center. As you begin to sit within this seat of consciousness you will begin to sense an inner organization, unity, and harmony unfold.
The planets of your concerned parts, protectors, and exiles can learn to trust in the guidance and presence of Self, redefine their roles and heal the pains from the trauma that you’ve experienced. The beaming, inexhaustible Light of Self can guide your inner shadows back home to safety, love, and belonging.
Self-Therapy : A step-by-step guide to creating wholeness and healing your inner child using IFS, A new cuttting-edge Psychotherapy, Jay Early, 2009
The Center for Self-Leadership, Introduction to the Internal Family Systems Model, Richard C. Swartz