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On a recent dark winter evening – when the canals in my Dutch neighborhood were starting to freeze over for the first time this year – I perched in my studio office … and skated into Tammy Sollenberger’s IFS podcast, “The One Inside.”
I’m delighted to share our rich 50-min conversation with you all about How to do IFS on yourself. (“Solo IFS” is the phrase I coined for this – pretty self-explanatory, right?)
Solo IFS is like a frozen canal: there’s so much vitality in these waters, but we have to pierce the ice to access it. (And doing that is fun!) So read on for highlights of these “piercing” insights.
I pulled out the most significant quotes to give you any guidance you’re seeking right away. And if you’re in a listening mood, put on those headphones, get a warm mug of your favorite tea, scroll up to click Play – and settle in!
Sidenote: “How do I do IFS on myself?” is the most common question Tammy gets from her listeners
And self-healing with IFS is my specialty. So of course we wanted to dance with this topic … and doubly so in this era of therapist shortages. Solo IFS gives us an accessible, affordable way to benefit from the IFS therapy model. It’s a creative way to get IFS for free. (Though of course it differs from doing IFS with a therapist, and you’ll hear exactly how in the episode.)
Trying solo IFS
My first attempts didn’t go so well
Misguided expectations forced me to swear off doing IFS on myself for years – and I don’t want you to have to do this! You’ll hear what I did “wrong” trying IFS on my own that made things go off the rails such that:
“I started to get a sneaking suspicion that something was wrong with me because I knew the skills, how to do IFS …but I couldn’t be in Self with myself.”
I describe to Tammy that guidance from deep inside – which I call our soul compass – and the surprising way it helped me:
“All of my work is about helping people find their own inner authority, and I call it your inner compass or your soul compass … My inner compass basically wound up telling me that I was harming myself by trying to pound the IFS process out … Counterintuitively, it was right for me to stop doing solo IFS because I wasn’t doing it in a healthy way.”
Structure & Flexibility
The two flavors
To do parts work on ourselves, we need to courageously shift into a mindset of independence and innovation:
“There’s a kind of a paradox here, because while there are some things that can be taught, we largely discover the next right thing to do – by following our inner compass … This is gonna be a unique process, and it’s unique for each person. There’s no one pathway. In fact, the only right way to do IFS on ourselves is our own way.”
When we bring in these two flavors to our solo IFS voyage, it builds global self-trust in our system. And self-trust which grows at the moment of our solo session extends into regular life.
“Solo IFS ideally is very intuitive and it requires setting up some structures ahead of time … Then we have so much freedom.”
Key tactics for your solo IFS session
We can use ritual containment to compensate for not having a therapist present, and the handy 3-letter acronym you can always fall back on. (Hint: It’s old.)
IFS has roots in shamanism, and this provides us with a natural way to ground:
“IFS is a shamanic tool, and that’s one of the reasons it’s so powerful and groundbreaking in our society … As a shamanistic tool, that means we get to draw on these practices that our ancestors have been doing for millennia.”
You’ll also learn:
- 3 questions to help you avoid flooding when doing IFS on your own, especially when you feel “I don’t know what I’m doing” (Also known as the Three Runways)
- How and why to try solo IFS with journaling
- Hash Mark Writing, a journaling structure that honors multiplicity
- 2 types of questions to ask in the closing phase of your solo IFS session
Detecting Self-Like Parts
How to Unblend
The 6 Most Common Self-Like Parts pop up in almost all of us from time to time. (FYI: Self-Like parts are parts which resemble Self because they display some C-qualities, but they have their own agendas and therefore are not Self, not capable of facilitating lasting healing.)
Simply knowing these parts exist can make us aware of blending:
“If we’re writing and nothing’s coming, that can be a big sign: ‘Maybe there’s a self-like part that I’m blended with right now.’ It’s kind of obvious because you can see the page is not getting filled … We can always check if we feel blocked: ‘Oh, am I blended with a self like part right now?’”
No matter which Self-Like Part is present, we can respond in a similar way:
“And with all of these self-like parts, the response is really the same, which is: ‘What are you afraid would happen if you weren’t doing this job – if you let me connect with the exile? What are you afraid will happen if you made space for me to handle this?‘”
Closing with Trust
How to honor your Parts as your session ends
Yes, you can build trust at the end of your solo session – even if you were blended with a part for most of the session! Learn what to do when a part asks you for something that’s not possible or unlikely:
“The point is not to do what the part asks, but to be authentic. And that’s our job when we go inside. Not to be in Self, not to do IFS right, but to show up and to be authentic.”
Tammy shares an aha moment: The impulse to say “Yes, anything you want!” when a part asks for something isn’t genuine relating. It’s (another) Self-Like Part trying its best to act like it imagines Self would. But Self is like the most wonderful, loving, responsible and properly boundaried parent you can imagine. In short: It’s not always gonna say yes to a part, but it will always connect and care.
IFS and regular life
How solo IFS can get you more Self-led
Practicing IFS on ourselves elevates the health of our whole system, both in and out of solo IFS sessions. I discuss two ways this happens. First of all, solo IFS sessions build your connection to your inner compass:
“There’s not a roadmap so listening so deeply to ourselves for the next right step increases our self-trust each time we do solo IFS … When we listen to that feeling inside that says ‘Go here, this feels right,’ that’s burning the practice of listening within even deeper into our neural pathways, into our soul. So it increases self-trust outside of the solo session.
Secondly, doing solo IFS teaches us to connect with our parts from the “regular us” rather than only from Self.
When we’re doing solo IFS, we do not have to try to be in Self. We simply show up as the regular us. When we connect with parts from here, without even trying we wind up blending the person we are in regular life with Self-energy. We’re building a bridge between the experience of Self in classic IFS and regular life.”
Even the practice of journaling with your parts – which entails doing IFS while your eyes are open (so you can see the page) – provides training wheels for keeping contact with your parts in regular life when you can’t stop everything for a closed-eye IFS mini-session (as nice as that might be!)
Discoveries & Benefits of Solo IFS
This practice is chock full of them!
And we can do it between therapy sessions – or even if we don’t have an IFS therapist!
It was a joy delving into this with Tammy. Now it’s your turn to share in the comments. I’d love to hear: If you’ve never tried solo IFS before, what would you need to make it feel safe and doable?
And if you have dived in: What’s one big thing that’s surprised you about trying IFS on yourself?