Internal Family Systems and Multiplicity of Self

In this simple set of illustrations, I show how, according to internal family systems therapy (IFS)  it’s normal to have parts of self. IFS was developed by Richard C. Schwartz, a family therapist who began adopting the family systems model of family therapy for individual work.

Internal Family Systems Therapy is a therapeutic approach that views the human psyche as a complex system. In IFS, these parts are categorized into three main groups: Managers, Exiles, and Firefighters. 

The illustration contains text and a doodle. The text reads, "According to Internal Family systems therapy, everyone has a multiplicity of sub-personalities and a 'true self.'" Below this is a pink-hued drawing of a person with chin-length hair wearing a choker necklace and a tank top. Underneath the person is the word, "normal." the person has a though bubble above them with four different doodle creatures within it: a monster with horns, a wild-eyed beast, and two human-looking forms, one with an apathetic smile and another with a withheld expression. Illustration created by Lindsay Braman.
Image has three doodles with titles and information next to them. At the top is a doodle of two people, one has a tie and short hair and is wearing an apathetic smile while the other is wearing a necklace with textured, short hair and has their arms crossed with a withheld expression. Next to the doodle duo is written: "Managers. Managers are parts that manage our day to day life. They attempt to maintain control to protect us from feeling hurt or rejected. They may be judgmental, caretaking, controlling, etc." Below this is a doodle of a single creature with fur, wild eyes, and a jagged-tooth smile. Next to this creature is written, "Exiles. Exiles are vulnerable and sensitive parts that hold fear and trauma. They are exiled to protect the self from the pain they hold, but they are desperate to be seen and heard." At the bottom is a drawing of a creature with horns and an angry expression. Next to this creature is written, "Firefighters. Firefighter parts jump into action when tough emotions from exiles start to show up. Their goal is to put out those emotional 'fires' and get things back to normal as fast as they can - even if that means harming us." Illustration created by Lindsay Braman.

Managers take charge of daily life and seek to protect us from emotional pain, often displaying traits like control or judgment.

Exiles carry deep-seated vulnerabilities and past traumas, kept hidden to shield the core self from their pain. 

Firefighters emerge when intense emotions from exiles surface. Firefighters work to restore emotional equilibrium, sometimes resorting to self-destructive behaviors. 

The work of recovery and self-development, through the IFS lens, lies in understanding and reconciling these inner parts to promote emotional healing, self-awareness, and personal growth.

Download the Multiplicity of Self PDF

Image Description for Screen Readers:

The illustration contains two images. 

The first image is a line of text and a doodle. The text reads, “According to Internal Family systems therapy, everyone has a multiplicity of sub-personalities and a ‘true self.'” Below this is a pink-hued drawing of a person with chin-length hair wearing a choker necklace and a tank top. Underneath the person is the word, “normal.” The person has a thought bubble above them with four different doodle creatures within it: a monster with horns, a wild-eyed beast, and two human-looking forms, one with an apathetic smile and another with a withheld expression. 

The second image has three doodles with titles and information next to them. At the top is a doodle of two people, one has a tie and short hair and is wearing an apathetic smile while the other is wearing a necklace with textured, short hair and has their arms crossed with a withheld expression. Next to the doodle duo is written: “Managers. Managers are parts that manage our day to day life. They attempt to maintain control to protect us from feeling hurt or rejected. They may be judgmental, caretaking, controlling, etc.” Below this is a doodle of a single creature with fur, wild eyes, and a jagged-tooth smile. Next to this creature is written, “Exiles. Exiles are vulnerable and sensitive parts that hold fear and trauma. They are exiled to protect the self from the pain they hold, but they are desperate to be seen and heard.” At the bottom is a drawing of a creature with horns and an angry expression. Next to this creature is written, “Firefighters. Firefighter parts jump into action when tough emotions from exiles start to show up. Their goal is to put out those emotional ‘fires’ and get things back to normal as fast as they can – even if that means harming us.” Illustration created by Lindsay Braman.  

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