Have you been getting stuck with internal family systems therapy (IFS) … even though you intuitively understand the approach?
Chances are, you do get it. It’s a simple model.
But, it’s likely you hold some beliefs about IFS that are simply not true.
Most of us do. These un-truths are so common they’ve reached mythic proportions.
And these misunderstandings create a lot of (valid) criticism of IFS. Because myths twist the approach. They stop IFS from working like it’s supposed to.
Are you a self-healer using parts work? This series is for you. Onwards, to the truth of the matter!
Plus, you’ll see how my critique of IFS comes from love … and why I won’t stop speaking up even though it makes some people mad!
Myths are the Problem – not IFS!
When we misunderstand IFS, it becomes less effective and many of us conclude: “IFS therapy doesn’t work.”
7 Major Myths of IFS therapy
- There are a set number of Parts inside of us
- All of our Parts have names
- IFS must follow a certain script in order to work
- IFS is a complete map of the psyche
- You are the director of your own healing
- You are Self
- You should be in Self all the time
If you want, bookmark this blog post for your future self to easily get clarity whenever doubting IFS – or your own system.
Criticism of IFS myths video series
Myths Part 1: Four simple corrections to make IFS more effectiveClick for Video Transcript.
Have you been getting stuck with internal family systems therapy?
Chances are, whether you are new to this approach and healing yourself with it, or even if you’ve been working with a therapist for years – or if you are a therapist – there are some beliefs you hold that are simply not true.
Hi, I’m Lucille Aaron Wayne, and I’m on a mission to help people like you become your own inner healer.
I’m a Certified IFS therapist, a Jungian, and an art therapist.
It’s taken me over a decade to identify these seven critical truths about IFS, and you’re gonna learn them all over the next few minutes.
We’ll start with three specific false ideas that you can apply right now and replace with something more accurate.
And keep watching to the end to find out exactly what IFS can and can’t tell you.
I think you might be surprised.
Our first myth is: There are a set number of parts inside of us.
This is not true, but let’s start with how we get this idea.
When we first learn that we have different parts and that that’s normal, many of us are so excited that we scurry to write down all of our parts.
So maybe it’s, this part is my little girl inside that loves singing, and this part is the part of me that likes to plan ahead and makes a schedule for the whole day.
And this part is the one who wants to scare people off if I feel threatened and acts really angry.
It’s quite gratifying to identify these different parts of ourselves, their feelings, their memories, their jobs inside of us, their motivation.
And over time the number of parts tend to mushroom.
So it might start out with this many, and then the list gets longer and longer until maybe it fills a binder or even maybe this big.
I’m exaggerating a little bit here, but I – what I find is people tend to get discouraged as they discover more and more parts, and there can be a feeling of, “Oh my God, I have so many parts.
What’s going on here?
It seems like there’s more and more and more every time I work with my system.”
The reason it can be harmful to believe that we have a set number of parts is it sets us up for disappointment and worrying that maybe something’s wrong with us.
It can make us feel like we’re never gonna heal because there are 300 parts inside of us!
In addition, if we think that we just need this list and need to go down it, it gives us a sense of bravado and a real directing and controlling attitude towards our healing.
It can give us the impression that if we simply make a list of all of our parts – like this one – then that is our blueprint for healing.
We simply need to work with these parts, and then once we’re done, we are fully healed and self-actualized and that’s that.
So let me tell you how it really is.
We actually have an unlimited number of parts, and the way I like to think about this is neural networks.
Research has been validating the natural multiplicity of the mind that IFS has known about for decades.
If we think of parts as different neural networks that get activated, then I’m sure you can imagine how there are an unlimited number of combinations of neurons that can fire together, of memories and feelings that can come up.
And just as there is an innumerable number of combinations of neural networks, there are an innumerable number of potential parts.
But the good news is we don’t have to heal the parts one by one by one.
As we heal one that healing does sink into the other parts.
It takes off this responsibility of having to track, remember, and individually heal every single part.
The healing that we do with one part is going to affect the others.
And any parts that are ready for healing and want our attention right now are going to appear in the phase of life when they need you.
It’s not something that you have to dig and get out that list and check: “How is part number 52 doing?”
I hope this brings relaxation to you and now you know that as you discover more and more parts when you do IFS, that is completely normal and it doesn’t create a longer to-do list for you.
Our second myth is the idea: all parts have names.
That is not true.
If you have made a list of your parts or simply encountered a part, you might have had the temptation to ask the part its name.
And if the part has not said its name very openly and easily, we might push the part to tell us its name, and I want to discourage you from doing that.
I’m gonna tell you a personal example.
When I first trained in IFS, the very first day of our training – this was back in 2011, 2012 – we had done a lesson and then we went on our own with pieces of paper to get to know parts inside of ourselves.
And the part that I saw was a little girl who had pigtails and she was playing in the garden, climbing on the jungle gym.
She was having a great time.
And I went up to her and I encountered her and I said, “What is your name?”
And she was more interested in just playing, maybe having me watch her, um, be with her.
But not knowing how important it was to follow her lead, I kept insisting that she tell me what I should call her.
So finally, kind of like a kid would do, she just sort of shrugged and said, “Okay, Lizzie.”
So that was her name.
I wrote it down and I still remember that name today.
But you know what?
I have never encountered the Lizzy part since that very first day.
And the reason for that is our parts, if we are healthy – or if they are parts that are in a healthy section of our psyche – they change.
They are not static and brittle and always the same every single day from week to week, month to month, year to year.
If there is health and we’ve healed from trauma, our parts are going to be developing.
They’re gonna be fading in and out, and they may be taking different forms and fitting different names when they come to our consciousness.
The danger of forcing a part to tell us its name, of insisting on that, is:
First of all, it may damage the part’s trust in us, and that could indicate that we are in a Self-Like Part that’s more caring about doing IFS “right” – like a good student – than actually being with the parts.
Another danger is if we push our parts to have a name we may be discouraging them from their natural healthy dynamism and changing.
We may be trying to squish them into a box.
And finally, if we take the naming as a mandate, we could get ourselves into a state of worry.
For example, I might have easily thought, “oh no, I can’t find Lizzie. I’ve lost a part of me. Maybe something’s wrong with my system.”
And it’s – that’s not true.
That’s not the way it unfolded.
It was just natural that some parts don’t particularly care for names and we can honor that.
We can trust that when a part wants us to know something, whether it be a name or some other piece of information, if it’s important to the part, it is going to present that and make sure that we are aware.
Bottom line is: if parts want a name, they’re gonna tell us “I am so and so.”
And We can always check with a part, “is it okay if I call you the pigtail part?”
But we don’t need to hold that name as something inalienable, something of the part’s essence like it might be for a person on the outside.
All right, I hope this helps you just, you know, be a little bit more flowy with the model and trust that when part wants something from you or wants you to know it in a certain way, it’ll tell you.
Let’s talk about the next myth because it relates.
Our third myth is the idea that IFS must follow a certain script to work.
IFS is more susceptible to this idea of right and wrong and a certain, maybe, rigidity about how it’s applied, because it is unusually dialed in – more so than most other therapies in terms of the sequence of how to do it.
And that is because the exact precise wording has been developed with a lot of care to unlock more efficiently and more precisely what is needed for healing.
But the danger if we think that we have to follow a particular script to the letter is that we stop being authentic with our parts.
Or if you are a therapist with your clients and the real healing place and energy that happens with internal family systems and parts work is from a place of true openness and true, genuine presence.
So if we are pushing a particular script or worrying that, “Oh no, the healing is not gonna be going well, the session is off the rails because we’ve stopped following the script!” then that is an unnecessary worry.
And that stress may actually be detracting from your session.
So what are the questions that follow the script?
They are things like when you notice the part: How do you feel towards that part?
What does the part look like?
The fact is depending on the part or the person, you may not see the part visually.
What colors or textures or physical sensations come with the part?
You may not have an answer to that.
You might, but you might not.
And if you don’t, that is okay.
They’re simply questions.
Some more classic IFS questions are: What is the part’s job?
When did it get that job?
What is it afraid would happen if it wasn’t doing this job?
Those are all important questions, and it’s okay if you’re not following them in the exact sequence that they’re traditionally taught.
Just remember the person who developed IFS, Dick Schwartz.
He was a pioneer and he was able to help his clients heal through not having a script.
He had to develop this this particular set of questions, and what he did was he was simply present and really paying attention to his clients.
And that is – again – that is the baseline, that is the most healing thing you can do.
The truth you can replace this false idea with is: authenticity is key.
Authenticity is more important than asking any particular question or following any particular sequence.
And if you have that authenticity, you are on the right track.
Even if a particular question doesn’t have an answer or you don’t remember to ask it.
Okay, let’s talk about the fourth myth, and this is what I promised you.
It is: What exactly can IFS tell you and what can’t it?
Here’s the myth: IFS is a complete map of psyche.
All right, raise your hand in the comments below if you have believed this at some point or if you still believe it.
IFS is a very useful map and it’s almost like it has this key.
You know how maps have symbols and they will say, you know,
“This thing means mountain.”
And then when you look on the map, you’ll see that symbol and you know what it means.
We can use IFS like that.
So the key will say, “If you encounter this thing, it means it’s likely a Firefighter part.
If you encounter this thing, it means it’s likely an Exile that has huge feelings.”
It’s so important to have these maps and I want to challenge you to hold it as one map among several you can take out of your back pocket when it feels helpful and when it feels right.
And we can think about it like this: cartographers, people who make maps, focus on different layers, different dimensions, different angles of information.
So there might be a topographical map that talks about the elevation in a landscape.
There might be a map that shows the ocean currents.
There could be a map that shows relative temperatures at different times in the year.
All of these maps would be relating to the same object, Earth.
And similarly, we have all these different maps that we get to use as resources for Psyche.
In fact, there is not any one model that can give us insight into every aspect of human behavior, of our brains, of our development, of our feelings.
Our psyches are so complex and we need a mixture.
If you use only a map that showed you the elevation, that might get you into trouble when you need to know that you’re about to cross the border into a different country – you would need a different type of map there.
In my IFS Mastermind where you learn how to do parts work on yourself, we talk in depth about what to do when it seems like the IFS framework – or those questions, or that script – are not showing us what to do.
We talk about how to take out other maps, like Jungian analysis.
You can also take out a map of cognitive behavioral therapy, if that’s feeling useful in the moment, or a “map” of laughter therapy.
Do you remember when that was a thing?
The good news is that we’re not losing anything by holding IFS in its rightful place, its rightful size as one map – one very useful, one of many.
It actually enriches this process and I find it wonderfully inspiring that our inner worlds are so complex, we’re never gonna understand it all.
It really does take the pressure off and it brings in this excitement and this discovery, which keeps life interesting.
And it keeps this healing journey exciting because we don’t know exactly where it’s gonna go.
So now that we’ve busted these myths of thinking there’s a set number of parts, trying to force your parts to all have names, trying to follow the exact script and trying to make everything fit the IFS map, let me know in the comments below: Which of these four myths has held you back the most?
But you know what?
We’ve left out something very important.
That is: Who you are and how you hold yourself when you’re healing with parts work.
Go ahead and click on the link to part two and we’re gonna bust some more myths around this.
See you soon.
The Biggest Myths About IFS Therapy You MUST Know (Part 1/2)
Myths Part 2: Advanced – Who you are and what it has to do with IFS (Part 2)
(Coming soon. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel to get notified.)
Public Critique of IFS
“The truth will set you free” is what they say, right? (I’m Jewish, so it’s giving me a double-take to quote Jesus, but there ya go.)
The truth about IFS will set us all free to heal. But where is that truth?
You can find some IFS therapy criticism on Reddit and sometimes in Facebook groups. Discussions get passionate. Much of the time, those contributions are from those new to IFS – or people who are not therapists.
I’m (so far) one of the lone voices from within the IFS establishment who’s critiquing common understandings of this therapy.
There are two main reasons it’s hard to find expert criticism of IFS’s “shortcomings” on the internet.
Reason #1: Most people don’t know enough about IFS to spot inaccuracies
Many people – clients and therapists alike – believe IFS is the cure-all solution for psychological troubles.
This has led to a lot of wild ideas and myths about IFS swirling around in the world, which get accepted as “fact” by many.
When it comes to misunderstandings about IFS:
Many seekers aren’t experienced enough to weed out these myths.
Reason #2: IFS experts aren’t speaking up (yet)
Those of us who are highly trained in IFS either:
- Aren’t interested in the conceptual. Not everyone is driven to question hypothesize, and that’s okay.
- Lack the drive or platform to share our ideas. Translating what’s in our heads onto the screen is major work!
- Dedicate our energy to spreading IFS, not to questioning it. And thank goodness for dedicated clinicians!
Sometimes, we IFS experts don’t speak up because:
We are afraid to stand out and share unorthodox ideas about IFS because we fear being shunned. I know that fear. Hopefully, the more voices that speak up, the more common and accepted it will become to publicly discuss these things.
When IFS disappointed me
My journey from starry-eyed devotee to openly “criticizing” IFS
Why am I stepping forward and publicly voicing problems with popular usage of IFS?
Because I know how damaging these myths are – both from my therapist’s seat, and from the inside as a self-healer.
Once upon a time, I was gung-ho about IFS.
An IFS session was, after all, the first time I felt my real Self!
I was so enamored that not only did I do IFS therapy as a client, but I got officially trained in it.
In my early 20s, I “invested” my savings in the official IFS training. It was extra expensive because I had to fly across the country six times to attend the trainings. And at that time it was anything but clear that IFS was going to be taken seriously by the mainstream. So calling my spendings an “investment” was a stretch.
What all this means is I was highly motivated to love IFS up and down and all the way to Happy Town.
I was an effective IFS therapist. My clients’ sessions were amazing. Emotional. Insightful. Deeply meaningful.
But over the years, for me, IFS had stopped working.
As in: IFS might be great in sessions, but it wasn’t making my regular life better.
You can hear more about my personal experience in my solo IFS podcast episode. To sum it up:
- IFS (how I was using it) was arguably making my life worse. (Constantly wondering if I was in Self, striving to be compassionate, etcetera.)
- At the time, I wasn’t grounded enough to criticize the model.
- I could, however, track my inner health. And I concluded IFS just didn’t work for me.
Instead of critically examining parts work, I threw it out. That was the best I could do at the time. To protect my well-being, I had to stop using IFS for my own healing.
Many years later, I’m on the other side of healing. (Aka I’m finally where I’d hoped to be psychologically-spiritually.)
I can re-engage without discarding myself or IFS.
It turns out IFS wasn’t the problem all along. Here’s what I see:
When we don’t know the truths covered in this series, IFS doesn’t work as it’s supposed to.
So of course we get confused and frustrated.
No wonder people get critical of IFS.
That’s why I created this myths series and do what looks like criticizing internal family systems therapy. Because IFS can help our world heal…
… when it’s understood and used properly.
Your Criticism if IFS is Welcome Here
Sometimes it feels like everything is publicly held as all-or-nothing nowadays.
Everything? Oh boy. Here I go, doing the same!
When we tune in to the collective, we sense that pressure to:
- Stick to a one-dimensional story about IFS
- Only say the positive
For me, sometimes this pressure is just in my head. Sometimes it’s in my inbox!
If you appreciate venturing beyond black-and-white to examine the gray area of IFS, I’d love you to do something right now to help balance this out.
All you need to involve is your fingertips.
And your unique mind and heart.
Here’s what you can do: engage publicly with this discussion.
With this blog post, right now. Will you let me know in the comments?:
Which of these myths are you most curious to uncover and gain awareness of?
If you’re feeling bold, share your criticisms of IFS. (You can even use a pretend name.)
I read and respond in depth to the first several comments. Just type below!