Internal Family Systems And How Different Parts Within Us Play A Role

Internal Family Systems - Insightful Counselling

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” – Stephen Covey.

Without trust, you cannot have a healthy relationship with anyone (including your protector). Trust in a relationship simply means feeling a sense of loyalty and security with your partner. Trust is essential for relationships to thrive—it’s the very reason why many (if not all) of us can remember different scenarios where our trust has been broken.

So, since trust is so vital for a healthy and functional relationship between someone and their partner or protector, how then do we develop a relationship of trust?

This article explores how to build a trusting relationship with the protector. Without further ado, let’s dive straight into it but before that, let’s take a look at what internal family systems are and how they work.

What are Internal Family Systems?

What are Internal Family systems? - Insightful Counselling

The Internal Family Systems (also known as IFS) is a powerfully, evidence-based, transformative model of psychotherapy. In this model, it’s believed that the mind is naturally multiple—which happens to be a good thing.

Our inner parts carry valuable qualities, and our true Self knows how to heal, allowing us to become integrated and whole. In Internal Family Systems, all parts are welcome.

The IFS is a new empowering movement (or paradigm) for harmonizing and understanding the mind as well as larger human systems. One that can help the world become a compassionate place and help people heal.

How Does Internal Family Systems Therapy Work?

Internal Family Systems Therapy - How Does It Work - Insightful Counselling

In the Internal Family Systems, part of the process has to do with getting to know protective parts, which protect you against experiencing childhood pain and handles your interactions with the world. In its real sense, we get to know a protector from a place of compassion and curiosity emanating from our true Self.

The whole process isn’t just about gathering information or gaining insight into this part. You are learning how to build trust in a relationship with the protector. A crucial part of your success in the IFS largely depends on the degree to which you are genuinely connected to the protector, and it trusts you.

How IFS understands the Self – A Vital Role In Protecting Us

Internal Family Systems - Part Of Self - Insightful Counselling

Parts often take on extreme or difficult roles because they think they have to handle the situations independently. This is because they either don’t know that Self is there or don’t trust Self to handle the situation.

To better understand it, let’s take a look at a typical scenario of working with protectors. Mark has a protector named Prof, who arranges for Mark to be intellectual and in control of situations he’s in and himself. However, this part is scared that if Mark becomes too emotional, he’ll get out of control which can put him in danger. As a result, the Prof does all he can to keep the show running and Mark safe.

This part doesn’t realize that Mark’s Self can handle potentially challenging situations from a centered place. This is why the Prof feels the need to always be in charge, and there’s an urgency about taking control because of the danger it perceives.

How Can We Learn To Trust Ourselves in IFS? 

Internal Family Systems - Trust Ourselves - Insightful Counselling

One of the primary goals of the IFS is for IFS perpetrators parts to learn to trust the Self. Once they achieve that, they can relax and allow the Self to handle things and take the lead. However, complete trust won’t happen until after a part is unburdened with the protective role, but a good deal of trust can be acquired while getting to know the protector.

The protector has to know or be aware of the fact that the Self is there, and that the Self has compassion, strength, and every other quality needed to deal with life situations and the pain of exiles. The protector also needs to know that you (Self) care about it, understand its role, appreciate the work it has done for you all these years, and that you can do your role. This, in turn, allows the protector to rest to some extent, start trusting you in Self, and begin to grant you access to the exile (or exiles) it has been protecting.

This relationship with the protector will become even more important later in the Internal Family Systems process after the exile has been unburdened and your protector is ready to relinquish its protective role. And that can only happen if it genuinely trusts you.

To enhance your relationship with the protector, you must develop trust, which must be in the Self—this indicates that you are really interested in having a relationship with the protector. You are not just getting to know the protector so you can move on to exile. You are not just giving or offering lip service because the protector has a positive intent for you. You are really curious or serious about learning what it has been trying to do for you, why it believes that this protective role is vital, and how working with our internal parts empowers ourselves.


Internal Family Systems - Meeting Your Inner Family - Insightful Counselling

Most protectors have worked tirelessly and hard for your benefit for many years. Or at least they believe that all they are doing is for your benefit. In fact, they think that you’d be in grave danger if they didn’t play the protective role. They believe the role is critical, and most of the time, they may not even like the role, but they feel that someone must do it.

They also feel frequently judged and misunderstood by parts of you for doing their job. Even the protectors that are proud of their roles often get tired of it and would love to rest a bit but can’t because they believe that the moment they take time out, you may become flooded by pain or be left vulnerable in dangerous situations.

Our protectors need us to understand why they do what they do for us and appreciate their efforts. As you continue to discover more about your protector and understand its motivations, it’ll be helpful if you appreciate what the protector has been trying to do for you. Doing that will go a long way in improving the trusting relationship you are trying to develop with your protector.

Remember, even if your protector is causing you problems rather than helping you out, know that it does its role because it believes it’s trying to help you and shield you from pain.


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