Updated: Jul 4
In Part 2 of this series, we took a deeper dive into your inner world, differentiating the various parts and their roles as described by Internal Family Systems (IFS). I provided a diagram that I thought might be helpful with illustrating these concepts, and I promised I'd share an analogy that has really supported me personally with the understanding of what it can feel and look like when my parts feel known and appreciated.
Imagine your inner world as a symphony orchestra, where each part represents a different instrument, contributing to the complexity and richness of the music.
In this symphony, you have the Strings section. These parts play the melodies, creating the emotional depth and resonance within your inner world. They bring forth the feelings of joy, sadness, longing, and love, adding texture and depth to the overall composition.
The Woodwinds section represents the parts that provide a sense of movement, flexibility, and adaptability. They can be playful, curious, and quick to respond to changing circumstances. Their melodies and harmonies add a sense of lightness and fluidity to the symphony.
The Brass section embodies the parts that bring power, strength, and assertiveness. They play bold and commanding melodies that assert your boundaries, express your desires, and provide the necessary energy and drive to overcome challenges.
The Percussion section adds rhythm, intensity, and dynamics to the symphony. These parts bring forth the heartbeat, the pulsating rhythms that ignite passion, urgency, and excitement. They create the momentum and drive that propel you forward in life.
The Conductor represents the Self, the wise and guiding force that directs and harmonizes the orchestra of your inner world. The Conductor ensures that all the parts play in harmony, balancing their contributions, and creating a cohesive and beautiful symphony.
Each instrument, each part, has its role to play in the symphony of your inner world. They come together, weaving their melodies, harmonies, and rhythms to create a unique and ever-evolving composition. Some parts may take center stage at certain times, while others provide the supportive harmonies in the background.
Just as a symphony draws upon the talents and expressions of different instruments to create a captivating musical experience, your inner world draws upon the diversity of your parts to shape your experiences, emotions, and actions. By honoring and embracing the contributions of each part, you allow for the fullness of your inner symphony to unfold, creating a masterpiece of self-expression, authenticity, and self-connection.
In the previous blog I provided a few reflection questions for you to use to get to know your inner world. Here are some additional journal prompts to help you develop deeper awareness of your parts within the Internal Family Systems (IFS) framework. It’s important to understand that the parts of you that may prompt behaviors that you label as “bad,” “unhealthy,” or “dysfunctional,” are there for a purpose. For example, if you engage in eating that feels out-of-control and impulsive, even if intellectually you recognize it’s not leading to something that’s positive, I think we can all acknowledge that it is leading to an avoidance of something that feels overwhelming. The part of you driving this behavior knows this. It's protecting you from overwhelm and intense emotional upheaval that it believes you cannot skillfully be with in another way. In psychology, we call these secondary gains. Essentially, this process ensures that you confer benefits from behaviors you might label as terrible (i.e., binge eating, overworking, drug or alcohol abuse, rage).
My client was recently describing a situation in which she and husband were going back and forth about a family member who had invited himself over and had no plans of leaving. They both acknowledged that they wanted him to pack up and head out, they both had parts of them who were scared to say something for fear of how he would respond. My client was irritated that she felt held back by this part of her, but upon further reflection, she absolutely could understand its intention and purpose. As a young girl, she learned to be very cautious about speaking up or asking for things. She was called selfish and ungrateful. The sense of unworthiness she felt was too much for a little person to know what to do with, so she learned to stay quiet and keep her mouth shut. This part of her that prompts the quietness is doing the only thing it knows to do to prevent the upheaval of those powerfully uncomfortable emotions of shame.
Now, you may be thinking, “but that was then… she’s older now and isn’t in the same environment.” And you’d be correct. But the parts that develop to protect like this are often frozen in time, at the time the wound was inflicted. The beautiful thing about IFS is that we know the wound can be healed, that the shame burdens the younger part of her is carrying can be released, and then the protective part that keeps her quiet can relax into its naturally clarifying state. It can shift from acting with fear to acting with flexibility.
Reflections: Use this opportunity to explore and deepen your understanding of your internal landscape, cultivating self-awareness and compassion for your parts along the way.
1. Reflect on your emotions: What are the predominant emotions you have been experiencing lately? Are there any patterns or recurring themes? Take a moment to identify and describe these emotions in detail. How do they manifest in your body (i.e., tightness in your chest, throat constriction, buzziness)?
2. Explore your inner critics: What are the critical thoughts or self-judgments that frequently arise within you? Take some time to write down these critical statements. What do these inner critics say to you? When do you notice they show up? Can you identify any underlying fears or intentions behind these critical voices? Do they sound familiar in any way to what others may have said to you, perhaps as a young person?
3. Identify protective behaviors: What are some behaviors or habits you engage in to protect yourself? These could be related to control, avoidance, or seeking external validation. Write down these protective behaviors and reflect on why you engage in them. What parts of you do you think are driving these behaviors? What do they seek to protect you from?
4. Uncover your vulnerable parts: Are there any memories, experiences, or aspects of your life that elicit strong emotions or vulnerability within you? Take some time to journal about these vulnerable moments. How do they impact you? Can you identify any wounded or vulnerable parts that are associated with these experiences?
5. Connect with your desires and passions: What are the things in life that truly light you up and bring you joy? Reflect on your passions, dreams, and aspirations and how you feel when you’re engaged with them. When do you feel most at home with yourself? Write about the parts of you that are connected this sense of home or wholeness. How do they express themselves? What strengths or qualities do they bring forth?
6. Notice inner conflicts: Are there any situations or decisions where you find yourself feeling torn or conflicted? Write about these conflicts and explore the different perspectives or desires within you. Can you identify the parts involved in these conflicts? What do they each want or fear?
7. Reflect on relationships: Think about your relationships with others. Are there any recurring patterns or dynamics that you notice? Journal about these patterns and explore the parts of you that may be influencing these dynamics. How do these parts contribute to your interactions and connections with others?
Stay tuned for Part 4 where we'll spend time specifically getting to know the Self and learn more about how we can practice accessing more Self-energy.
If you have any questions or would like to share your insights, feel free to leave a comment! And if you know someone who would appreciate this blog, please share it with them or post onto your social media. Thank you!