Introduction to Internal Family Systems by Richard C. Shwartz | Book Review

This week I have been reading Introduction to Internal Family Systems by Richard C. Shwartz.

I was introduced to Internal Family Systems approach sometime last year.

And it instantly reconnected me with my experience during the ten-day Vipassana course.

What is Internal Family Systems?

Schwartz in 1980s was a family therapist and while working with his clients, he started noticing that similar to our external families – we have internal families, parts who play different roles in our inner world.

In the book, Richard explains how could also connect the dots between spirituality, different religions of the world, meditative practices and the approach he developed – the theory that each one of us have multiple parts, experiencing different realities and often these parts are polarized i.e. they might have different opinions about how you should live as a person.

One part of you might want you to hustle and another part would want you to rest.

Often I have found myself in between these tug of wars, between different parts voicing very polarized opinions of how I (my state of self) should live this life.

And Internal Family Systems as an approach tries to resolve these conflicts between our inner parts – a lot of it starts by listening to each of these parts which have something to say.

While it’s difficult to accept, usually our relationship with these parts is not a very healthy one. Richard divides the parts into three broad catagories – Exiles, Managers and Firefighters.

Each part which lives within our body is beautiful and yet sometimes, due to our life experiences we treat some parts as managers – who logically guide our day to day lives (the logical, rational parts) and we exile some parts. Parts which remind us of pain we have experience in life.

To illustrate, let me share the life of K who has thrown herself into work for well over past three years and often struggles with deep and strong voices reaching out for support, care, nourishment and pampering.

K shun these voices because she is afraid if she listens to them her worst fear would come true – she would not be good enough.

IFS works on two basic principles/assumptions:

  • We are inherently good enough.
  • We have multiple parts living within us.

An IFS therapist would nudge K to listen to this part of her which asks her to continuously hustle and see what stories and memories it has to reveal.

Turn your Gaze Inwards

A lot of therapy, spiritual practices, meditation is about turning our gaze inwards – seeing through different parts of ourselves, accepting them – acknowledging their presence.

Self-Love has become a pop culture thing now while practising it is awfully difficult. Similarly with IFS, we might face intial difficulties in reconnecting with our parts – parts we have put in exile, caged and locked – not to be talked with.

These parts might be painful, angry, living in a lot of shame and since, we also cage them – when they come out after years of living in shadows, they might react with full force – leaving you feeling overwhelmed and may be out of control of your life.

However, gradually – as you start listening to them you’d notice how they have been only trying to protect you through all these years.

Is Internal Family Systems Approach Scientific?

It is difficult to comment on the scientific realibility of IFS as an approach, as it is the case with most things which have been developing in small niche groups.

I have felt similarly about Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) too.

Somewhere because I believe western science has constantly tried put everything into a formula, work it out as a straitjacket solution – analyse it, quantify it and only accept if you can prove it numerically.

Which is the correct too, however, there are things in universe which perhaps modern science is still evolving to understand and make meaning out of.

An allopathic doctor would not usually prescribe you – meditation or IFS as a solution your somatic concerns.

While the way we experience reality, is vast – its infinite, something beyond what modern science could solve for. Because often, it’s only looking at the tip of the pyramid – trying to make meaning out of limited symbols, we understand as humans.

Final Review
It's an interesting light read, especially if you are inquistive about Internal Family Systems as an approach and would like to learn how it works.

P.S. If you would like to get a free pdf of the book, click here.

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