6 minutes

A book about relationships that will be useful even on a deserted island

The time of vacations, travels, trips, and being in new places is conducive to forming new relationships or strengthening existing ones. In my case as well, these past months have resulted in relationships, but ones I didn’t expect at all. But, let’s take it step by step.

For me last months was not an easy time. I entered them with the conviction that I already knew a lot about myself, that I understood the tricks of my mind, and that when the need arose, I’d be able to avoid them. However, the recent weeks brought a flood of anxiety, dark thoughts, along with growing irritation, restlessness, and resulting tensions.

In hindsight, I think I brought this upon myself. Before the vacations, I dedicated a lot of attention to working on “feelings”, searching for hidden wounds not in my mind anymore, but in my body (I wrote more about this in “Why do I feel what I feel?“). In this situation, I shouldn’t be surprised that I triggered a massive awakening of what was buried within me.

Fortunately, for some time now, I’ve had a strong conviction that nothing in our lives happens by chance. If something difficult befalls us, it’s an invitation to push us toward an effort that usually signifies personal growth. So, when the techniques I had developed earlier for dealing with unwanted thoughts failed me, I had to look for something new.

In this way, two books ended up in my hands: “No bad parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family System Model” and “Self-Therapy.” The author of the first one is the creator of the approach mentioned in the title – Internal Family System – R. Schwartz. The second book is by J. Earley, one of the practitioners of this method. I want to clarify right away that the word “family” used in the title of the first book might be somewhat misleading; it refers to the subpersonalities functioning within our minds, not family relationships per se. I also deliberately use the term “approach to life” because in my opinion, IFS is much more than therapy; it’s an idea of how to think about one’s own life, how to think about relationships with other people, and even how to think about the world (better understanding why it looks the way it does).

I won’t delve into the details of IFS, but generally, it’s a concept that states difficult emotions and impulsive actions stem from our parts, also known as subpersonalities. It’s as if there are beings within us, and each of them has its own feelings, motivations, and worldview. By the way, in my belief, the principles on which IFS is based – developed several decades ago – align with the findings of the latest brain research about our functioning (for those interested I recommend the book “A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence” by J. Hawkins).

IFS distinguishes three types of internal figures: exiles (our childhood wounds frozen in time), managers (their task is to prevent us from feeling the pain associated with exiles), and firefighters (they take action when pain arises, aiming to quell it). Each of us practically has multiple exiles, managers, and firefighters. On the other hand, there’s the Self, which is a kind of core of our existence, characterized by the 8Cs: Curiosity, Compassion, Clarity, Connectedness, Creativity, Courage, Confidence, Calm.

IFS posits that subpersonalities – much like people – interact with each other, resulting in our emotions and moods, which in turn determine our external behaviors towards others. For instance, if among our subpersonalities are the Shamed Child and the Inner Critic, this configuration can lead us to be overly cautious in real life and simultaneously translate into frustration due to the dullness of our lives. This would manifest in specific behaviors (like avoiding unfamiliar people), which, when interacting with other people’s subpersonalities, shape our reality. This is, of course, a very simplified example, but it illustrates the IFS approach. By knowing our subpersonalities and the relationships between them, I can understand “why I think what I think and why I do what I do”.

The next step involves transitioning from unconscious functioning (when our subconscious rules us, and we’re not even aware of it) to conscious management of relationships between subpersonalities. This, of course, translates into significant changes in our daily lives, generally leading to unlocking blocked potentials within us.

Although I’m only at the beginning of my journey with IFS, just the process of mapping out my subpersonalities has brought much more tranquillity into my life. I have this experience that it’s much easier for me to shift to a different level, the level of being an observer of what’s happening within me, rather than necessarily being directly involved in those interactions (in other words, being neutral in my emotions like a chessboard, rather than being engaged as the pawns in the game).

I also appreciate IFS for several other reasons:

  • It confirms that any change happening in the world (and I’ve written about the need for such changes many times) must begin within ourselves, in the change of internal dynamics in each and every one of us,
  • IFS can be transformative in nature – not only does it help to better bear life’s burdens (as I wrote in “Can psychotherapy heal the world?“), but it can completely change one’s life, starting from the goals we set for ourselves, through the music we enjoy listening to, all the way to the circle of people we want to be around,
  • IFS emphasizes the role of relationships – even if there’s no one around us (and perhaps especially then), it doesn’t mean that relationships cease to play a role. For these reasons, books about IFS are worth taking even to a deserted island, because even there, one needs to know how to take care of their internal family.

And finally, IFS fits very well into what one of the founders of depth psychology, C.G. Jung, stated years ago, ‘Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.‘* Our world greatly needs mass awakening today.



* I took this quote from the book “Insight”, by M. Pasterski. It contains well-organized and inspiring knowledge about ‘how we function’ and about self-development.

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