From an IFS perspective, our inner world is divided into exiles, protectors (managers and firefighters), and the Self. Most of us are subject to a range of painful life experiences, which if not dealt with appropriately, create exiles — parts of us that are locked away deep inside our psyche because they carry heavy burdens, e.g., overwhelming feelings, beliefs, and body sensations. These parts are often innocent, vulnerable children that were pushed out of their naturally valuable state by a traumatic or difficult experience. Protectors develop to help us avoid re-experiencing the pain of an exile, and while their initial intention is positive, they often end up hurting us in the process. Managers are preemptive protectors, e.g., an inner critic who motivates us to shape up before anyone else can point out our imperfections. Firefighters are reactive protectors that emerge when an exile has been inadvertently triggered, e.g., a part that uses substances to douse the emotional pain.
IFS further recognizes an inner entity called the Self, otherwise referred to as the true self in psychology and known by many names in wisdom traditions, e.g. awareness, essence, Buddha nature, Atman, the seat of consciousness, etc. The realization of the Self and its various facets is often sought through meditation, yoga, and various spiritual practices. In IFS, we access Self when parts give us space and stand back. Only when connected to and supported by the Self, the true healing can take place. Eventually, the Self becomes a natural leader of our internal system as we live our life imbued with Self qualities of compassion, clarity, confidence, curiosity, creativity, calm, connection, and courage.
If we spend any time exploring our inner world, we quickly recognize that we have parts. Many psychologists, poets, philosophers, and more recently neuroscientists have acknowledged the multiplicity of the human nature. This insight holds a particular significance for the field of psychotherapy, especially when put into practice within the framework of Internal Family Systems (IFS). This experiential model is profoundly comprehensive and highly effective.