IFS Self-Leadership Approach
Internal Family Systems (IFS) Self-Leadership is an evidence-based psychospiritual practice, developed by Dr. Richard C. Schwartz, with applications in psychotherapy and coaching. Main structure of the IFS Self-Leadership approach along with useful definitions and examples are provided in blog post IFS Self-Leadership – A Primer of Basic Concepts. Additional details and official information about the approach are available in IFS Institute.
The real value of IFS Self-Leadership extends beyond its current applications. The approach represents a hopeful and optimistic way of seeing and connecting with ourselves, and with others. Embracing it is spiritual and can lead to self-discovery, healing, and well-being. Practice of IFS is also intellectually and emotionally stimulating, and raises our awareness about ourselves and others in our lives.
The ultimate goal of the IFS practice is to embody Self-Leadership in life. What do we exactly mean by that? Self-Leadership is a state of mind and heart that enables us to conduct our everyday life with positive virtues, such as compassion, calmness, clarity, curiosity, confidence, courage, creativity, connectedness, etc. When we embody these positive virtues in daily life, we become emotionally centered, calm and confident during challenging periods and experiences. When we embrace “Self-Leadership “, we become a “Self-Led” person.
As the name indicates, Self (with a capital S) is the most inner essence of our being that transcends our Ego or Persona. Self is easier to feel and experience in practice than to describe in words. It has tremendous positive and healing energy (“Self Energy”), which can be embodied during IFS practice by both the client and the practitioner. Self and Self Energy are at the very core of the IFS practice.
When Self is present in us, we become centered, confident and more connected with ourselves and people around us. Our Self Energy is transpersonal and once activated can be felt by people interacting with us. Unfortunately for some of us, specially those with childhood or past traumatic experience, Self and its energy may not be as readily accessible due to our burdened psychological state. However, if we somehow manage to create a little bit of space in our mind, Self and its healing energy can emerge and grow in us. How do we create that space? That is where IFS comes to picture.
In IFS paradigm, we are not really one mind, and our personality consists of subpersonalities. This implies that our actions, thoughts and emotions related to a subject can change depending on subpersonalities expressing them. This perspective is bit hard to accept at first as we always viewed ourselves having “a personality”. But, the following example may be helpful in seeing the inner working of our subpersonalities.
Imagine Sara who works as an employee in a relatively secure but mundane and uninspiring 9 to 5 job. When she was younger, she had bigger goals, to become an entrepreneur or one day own her own small business. Now, somehow she finds herself as an employee behind a corporate desk. There is not a day when she doesn’t hear an inner voice shaming her for what happened, or blame her laziness and lack of courage for not following her goal to become who she could have been.
You can sense the energy-draining inner struggle in her. Part of her who accepted the corporate job had a good intention by making sure she has stable cash flow to support her frugal but comfortable life. We call this part of her the “Conservative Sara”. In the opposing side, there is another part of her, who also with good intention wants her to have life satisfaction by courageously pursuing her dream to become more than what she currently is. We call this part of her the “Entrepreneur Sara”.
There is a clear polarization between these two parts of her personality. Even if she now decides to answer the call of the Entrepreneur Sara, she still needs to deal with the shaming voices of the Conservative Sara, now making her worried about financial security and livelihood. The polarizing conflict between these two parts of her can continue for long time, draining her emotional and intellectual energy with no resolution in sight.
Sara is stuck between two parts of her personality, both of which seem to want the best for her. Is there a way to understand these two parts better, and stop their struggle, shaming and worrying that are going on inside Sara’s mind? The answer is “yes, there is”, and this is where Self and its energy come to picture. The practice of IFS can help Sara’s Self Energy to emerge and mediate between these polarized parts to help achieving a resolution or harmony.
IFS practice is highly imaginative and inspiring to experience. Many who witnessed the positive effects of IFS, have incorporated it into their daily lives as a positive and spiritual way of viewing themselves and the world around them.