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  • Sean Cuthbert

The Self in Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy

Updated: Jul 31

One of the commonalities all human beings share is that we're all just trying to reach for the highest truest expression of ourselves. Having worked with a spectrum of clients from successful multi-millionaires to those who is homeless and drug-addicted, ultimately all people come to therapy with the same basic intention: to find what is the fullest, most true expression of themselves as human beings.


One of the assumptions of Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy is that everyone has a "Self". In essence, the Self is who we truly are, with all of our Parts separate. The Self is characterised by what IFS calls the 8C’s: compassion, curiosity, clarity, creativity, calm, confidence, courage, and connectedness. As opposed to many other models, IFS holds that everyone has access to these qualities at their core, and they don’t need to be created or built by the therapy. The IFS process assists in excavating these qualities inherent in the Self so they can shine through and lead the individual's internal system. The Self also knows how to heal and be there for all Parts of ourselves.


Once they get their head around the idea (and start to understand the latest neurobiological research on the Self - check out anything by Antonio Damasio), the idea of a Self resonates deeply with clients. It touches on a universal truth that people intuitively know, and I would argue that this is one of the reasons why IFS has exploded in popularity in the last decade. People are drawn to the inspiring idea of the Self and the beauty of IFS because in their day-to-day 'blended' (Parts taking over) lives, there is actually something inside them that has an inherent capacity to grow and heal. IFS touches into the yearning that people have to remember this capacity and use it to make their lives better. The Self is an expression of the goodness and beauty inside people, of the love they want to offer themselves and people who are important to them. The Self and IFS process are a reminder of everyone's potential to aspire to their best.


IFS helps people develop the practice being connected to the essence of themselves through what is called, "Self-energy", or the exercising of those 8C's as the default, rather than the exception. And of course, this takes practice. So just like you shower to stay clean and brush your teeth to prevent cavities, it takes daily work in the form of journaling, meditating, or just silently checking in with Parts of yourself from a Self-lead place to build the skills. But for clients who utilise the power of the process, it provides a conscious working model on how to stay fully present with whatever shows up in your experience.


So, to begin to touch into these ideas of Self and Self-energy, here is a link to IFS Creator, Dr Richard Schwartz leading a meditation called, "The Path": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWEoHSe1zGw