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Who Am I? (Part 2): Understand Why You Do What You Do By Getting to Know the Different Parts of You!

In Part 1 of this series I introduced the concepts of inner diversity and multiplicity as described by the therapeutic model, Internal Family Systems (IFS). We began to integrate the idea that within each of us exists a tapestry of different parts that make us who we are. In Part 2 we will take a deeper dive into the different parts and their roles.


Have you ever felt like there are different parts within you, each with its own voice and perspective? Understanding and embracing these parts can lead to greater self-awareness, which has the power to bolster your sense of self-connection, which can enhance your capacity for self-alignment. What does all this really mean? Through this work you can operate with a greater sense of ease, balance, and well-being because your parts are collaborating!

I shared previously that it was destructive behaviors that led me down a path of beginning to embrace and understand my various parts. In my late teens and early 20's my eating had become significantly disordered, my life closing in on itself. I was isolating, avoiding connection with friends and family, and unable to get hired. The eating disorder behavior was driven by a part of me that I later came to understand had very good intentions of protecting me from feeling the vulnerable emotions of a deeply wounded part. As I learned to be with the pain of this part, the part that was driving the disordered eating and controlling

A cat lying upside down curious about a butterfly

behaviors could relax. Needless to say, it was when I stopped abandoning the difficult and deep emotions of the wounded part that I began to heal, and the control dialed back to become perspective. I like to imagine each part operating on a continuum. The more safety and compassion there is in the system, the less extreme the parts feel they need to be.

In a recent session with a client, we were discussing this very idea, that parts, much like the emotions we experience, operate on a continuum from relaxed and open, to extreme and reactive. Curiosity, for example, can feel unbound, gentle, and without an agenda or when in its extreme form, can feel hurried, tight, and urgent. Have you ever been in a situation with someone where they have a lot of questions, and they're being lobbed at you hard and fast? It can feel like you're being interrogated versus listened to and nurtured by a curious presence.

Before I dig in too deeply, let's take a higher level view to continue laying a foundation.

Facts about Inner Diversity and Parts:

  1. Internal Family Systems (IFS): Developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, IFS is a therapeutic approach that recognizes the existence of multiple inner parts within each individual.

  2. Protectors and Exiles: According to IFS, our inner parts can be categorized into two main groups. Protectors aim to shield us from pain and vulnerability, while exiles carry our wounded or vulnerable emotions.

  3. Role of the Self: The Self, in IFS terminology, represents the core of our being—the wise and compassionate center that can lead and integrate our parts.

  4. Unburdening and Healing: The goal of IFS is to cultivate a harmonious relationship with our parts, allowing them to unburden their roles and ultimately heal the underlying wounds.

A person chewing their nails looking pensive and uncomfortable

As you can see, inner diversity encompasses the recognition that we are not a singular, monolithic self but rather a complex system of interrelated parts. These parts can range from protective and nurturing aspects, to wounded and vulnerable ones. They may have different roles, perspectives, and needs. When they show up, it can feel as if we’re being pulled in different directions, as they show up often with varied thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

The concept of inner diversity in IFS emphasizes that each part within us has its own validity and purpose. Instead of pathologizing or suppressing certain parts, IFS encourages a compassionate and non-judgmental approach, acknowledging that all parts are essential and deserving of understanding and acceptance. This approach recognizes that every part has valuable contributions and holds important information that can lead to healing, growth, and integration.

By embracing inner diversity within the IFS framework, we foster an inclusive and respectful internal environment. The aim of this approach is to develop a harmonious relationship among our parts, which facilitates communication, collaboration, and behaviors guided by Self-energy. Through this process, we can access the wisdom and resources of each part, promoting balance, well-being, and a deeper sense of Self-connection.

Let's look a little more closely at the types of parts and their roles. You can view the image below to aid in your understanding.

Types of Parts & Their Roles

Within the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model, there are various types of parts, each with its own unique roles and functions within the internal system. Here are some of the common parts that can be present:

1. Exiles: These are wounded or vulnerable parts of ourselves that carry unresolved emotional pain, trauma, or unmet needs from past experiences. Exiles often hold memories or emotions that were too overwhelming to process at the time, and they may manifest as feelings of sadness, fear, or shame.

2. Managers: These parts take on the responsibility of protecting us from experiencing pain or reactivating old wounds. They often exhibit controlling, perfectionistic, or proactive behaviors to maintain a sense of safety and control. Managers may push us to achieve, criticize ourselves harshly, or avoid situations that trigger vulnerability.

3 firefighters trying to put out a blazing fire

3. Firefighters: These parts emerge in response to distress or overwhelming emotions triggered by the exiles. Their role is to distract or numb us from the pain by engaging in impulsive or destructive behaviors. Firefighters can manifest as addictive tendencies, self-harming behaviors, or escapist activities such as overeating, substance abuse, or excessive work.

4. Self: The Self is the core essence or true nature within us. It is the compassionate, wise, and grounded part that has the capacity to hold and heal other parts. The Self is characterized by qualities such as calmness, curiosity, courage, and clarity. It acts as a unifying force, facilitating harmony, and guiding the internal system towards balance and integration.

Illustrative diagram of the various parts as described by Internal Family Systems

It's important to note that while these are common types of parts within the IFS model, the internal system can be highly individualized, and each person's parts may have their own unique characteristics and roles. Some parts may serve multiple functions or transition between different roles depending on the situation.

Embracing our inner diversity and understanding the role of parts can be a transformative journey. By applying the principles of Internal Family Systems, we can cultivate self-compassion, navigate challenges with greater awareness, and foster a deeper sense of integration within ourselves. Remember, each part within us has a valuable story to tell, and by embracing them, we can unlock our full potential for growth and self-discovery.

Five people collaborating and sharing ideas

In the previous blog I invited you to just begin to notice the different thoughts that show up in your mind, the emotions you experience, and the sensory information you feel in your body. These are all the ways that the various parts of you might show up.

Now, take a few moments to reflect on the following questions, stepping more fully into this activity. By exploring the vast landscape of your inner world, your parts can help you understand why you do what you do. You might be surprised by the insights and wisdom that emerge.

Reflective Questions:

  • Can you identify any specific parts within yourself? How do they manifest and influence your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors?

  • Are there any parts that you find challenging to accept or understand? How might embracing their perspectives contribute to your overall well-being?

  • How can you connect with your Self—the wise and compassionate core—when interacting with your parts? What practices or activities support this connection?

Stay tuned for Part 3 where we'll continue our exploration of inner diversity and delve deeper into the world of parts. I'll share with you an analogy that brings to life these concepts! Until then, embrace your unique inner tapestry and nurture the relationship with your Self.

If you have any questions or would like to share your insights, feel free to leave a comment! I would love to hear from you!


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This is good stuff; I’m loving this topic. And the gentle way you’re presenting it…😊

Replying to

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, MaryPat! Gentle is the what all of our parts need from us! :)

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