Internal family systems

Internal family systems at Psykologvirke
Internal family systems at Psykologvirke

What are internal family systems (IFS)?

The IFS model is based on some basic assumptions about the human mind and how it works. These assumptions are crucial to understanding the model's approach to therapy and personal development.

Some key points:

  1. Within IFS, one starts from the fact that the mind consists of a series subpersonalities or parts. This contrasts with the more traditional understanding of et unified mind.
  2. Humans have an inner core, called The self, which can and should lead the inner parts.
  3. All the parts basically have a positive intention for the individual, even if it can have extreme ways of expressing itself. There are no "bad" parts and the goal of therapy is not to eliminate the parts, but to help them find their non-extreme roles and underlying resources.
  4. The parts develop in step with the individual, and form a complex system of interaction between them. If the system is reorganized, the parts may change or take on new roles.
  5. Changes in the internal system will affect changes in the external system and vice versa. This means that both the internal and the external system must be assessed in order to achieve the best possible result of the therapy.

The IFS model is based on system and family therapy.

The method has proven to be an effective approach to therapy and personal development that takes into account the different parts of the personality and their positive intentions.

By helping the parts find their non-extreme role and connect them the self, the therapy can lead to an overall improvement of the internal and external system.

What is the overall goal of IFS therapy?

  • Achieve balance and harmony in your intrapsychic system.
  • To differentiate the self from the parts and strengthen the self in its function as a leader in the system as a whole.
  • When the self is in the driver's seat, the parts will contribute input to the self, but at the same time respect leadership and final decisions taken from the self - that is, from its own core or center.
  • All parts will continue to exist and contribute with their inherent resources, rather than through their more extreme assumptions and hence roles in the person's internal/external system.

How does one understand "Self" within the IFS model?

  • The self is a different entity from the parts and is often described as a kind of inner "centre", which the parts talk to, like or dislike, listen to, or shut out.
  • When the self is sufficiently differentiated from the parts, it is experienced as competent, secure, self-aware, relaxed and able to listen and respond effectively to internal and external processes.
  • The self represents the true core of the personality and is characterized by empathy, compassion and wisdom. By giving the parts access to the self, the parts can be relieved and released from their often extreme and rigid roles.
  • When the self is no longer 'fused' but differentiated from all parts, it is common for people to describe a feeling of being 'centred'. A feeling of being present and that you are "yourself".

How do you understand "parts" within the IFS model?

  • Subpersonalities are aspects of our personality that interact internally in sequences and styles similar to the way humans interact. These parts can be experienced in different ways – as thoughts, feelings, sensations or images.
  • All parts want something positive for the individual and will use a number of strategies to gain influence within the internal system.
  • The parts develop a complex system of interactions between them.
  • Polarizations occur when different, often conflicting parts try to gain influence within the system.
  • While experiences affect the parts, the parts are not created by the experiences. They are always present, either as potential or actuality.
  • Parts that become extreme bear on "burdens", energies that are not embedded in the part's function and that do not belong to the part's nature, such as extreme assumptions, emotions or fantasies.
  • Parts can be helped to "lighten the load" and return to their natural balance and function.
  • Parts that have lost "trust" in the management of the self will "interfere" with or take over the function of the self.

What are the different main parts within IFS?


  1. Parts of the psyche that have experienced trauma often isolate themselves from the rest of the psyche in an attempt to protect the individual from re-experiencing pain, fear, loneliness and overwhelm.
  2. When these parts are banished to the psyche and subconscious, they can become increasingly extreme and desperate in an attempt to be cared for and tell their story.
  3. This can make the individual feel fragile and vulnerable.


  1. Parts that govern the individual's daily life.
  2. Trying to maintain control in every situation, to protect other parts from feeling pain or rejection.
  3. This can be done in various ways or by a combination of parts – by striving for control, criticizing, demanding perfection, intimidating or the like.

Fire extinguishers:

  1. A group of "emergency parts" that react when banished parts are activated (the exiles).
  2. Aims to control and/or suppress bad feelings.
  3. Carried out in different ways, for example through the use of drugs, alcohol, self-harm, overeating, overtraining or the like.
  4. So have the same goal as wardens (to keep banished parts away) but often different and more extreme strategies.

Working with IFS improves the relationship between internal and external systems

  • The way you relate to your own parts is often similar to the way you relate to the same parts in others.
  • Our internal systems influence and are influenced by the external system of which we are a part.
  • Internal and external systems often follow the same pattern.
  • You can imagine your own inner family, in the same way that you are part of an outer family, which must communicate, provide space and create interaction and harmony.


We all have different parts in personality or functioning, which can give us challenges in life. Examples of this could be the "perfectionist", the "self-critic" or the "adjuster".

Parts like this can control our thoughts, feelings and actions - at the same time that they often "unconsciously" carry and are driven by unresolved and underlying feelings of grief, shame, anger or self-hatred that they simultaneously try to keep at bay. 

The IFS model starts by helping you identify the different parts of your personality, and then create a safe and empathetic connection with each part, between the parts and self.

It can be challenging to recognize and distinguish between these parts, but the IFS model is designed to give you the tools to notice and connect.

It also gives you the opportunity to understand why these parts occur, what they are trying to protect, and how to deal with them appropriately.

The aim is to help you reduce your emotional distress and at the same time give you a greater sense of coherence and wholeness in your life.

For more information about IFS

Feel free to read here or see one of these: video / video where founder Richard Schwartz tells more about the method.

If IFS is for you, you can schedule an appointment, with one of our therapists who practices the method.

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