Article by Rachel Preibisch
Richard Schwartz, PhD., has devoted his career to understanding how trauma is expressed internally and finding ways to heal our wounded parts so that we can live wholly and purposefully. Through his ongoing, evidence-based work, Internal Family Systems (IFS), we can learn to understand how it’s possible to heal ourselves, starting by approaching these traumatized parts with curiosity and care. In his book No Bad Parts, Dr. Schwartz explains how systems-thinking applies not only to the world around us, but to the world inside us. While our deep, intrinsic Self remains whole and intact, different parts of ourselves may react to the trauma we’ve experienced in our lives by taking on various roles to protect us, becoming locked in the space in time when our trauma occurred.
Dr. Schwartz has discovered that these parts behave inside of us much like members of a family would, with each part fulfilling their own role and function within the internal system. As in a family, some of these parts may carry burdens, and some may seem destructive – yet they are doing what they feel is necessary to protect the Self. Many times we learn to reject and exile these parts. By reaching out to these parts with curiosity and care, and by sensitively exploring what they do for us, it becomes possible to work through the trauma they have held onto.
Why examine these ideas, and how does it help us in our lives? IFS is a look at trauma from a systems approach, seeing the person and their parts as a whole being, and the problems not just as a diagnosis to fix. In the outer world everything is connected, and our internal world is much the same. Just as society becomes fractured when certain individuals and groups are rejected, our inner lives and selves can become fragmented when we exile our hurt and vulnerable parts.
When a family or a community is whole, when each individual feels like they fulfill a purpose, the system can thrive. In the same way, our inner Self craves harmony. We cannot function authentically and wholly when our parts remain in isolation and are not healed. But when we invite these protective or painful parts to unburden and share themselves with us, and when we approach these vulnerable facets of ourselves with curiosity and openness, we are able to experience harmony. This harmony allows us to experience life as each of us is meant to do. This is the purpose of IFS.
Unburdening is a process. And yet when we invite the parts which are isolated or exiled to unburden, we experience healing from what has oppressed us. We are able to move into a sweeter, more satisfying lived experience. In this space our vision for our journey will become more authentic as burdened parts begin to feel a sense of their original purpose.
According to IFS, we are born whole and the Self remains that way no matter our experiences. The Self is always there and unbroken, waiting to lead us. It is able to do this when we have harmony. Once again, inner and outer systems reflect each other: Not only is there an internal benefit to healing these parts, but there is an external one as well. When we are in harmony with ourselves, not only do we feel a greater sense of individual purpose, but we are also able to change our relationships to the world and the individuals around us. How we relate to the parts of ourselves directly translates to how we experience and relate to those around us. We can change our relationship to the world by changing our relationship with our Self.
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