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  • Sean Cuthbert

What are "Self-like Parts" in Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy?

As I’ve outlined in previous posts, Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy is a deceptively simple process, and it speaks to the incredible complexity of an individuals' neurobiology and internal system at the same time. There are many challenges that present themselves throughout the process, few more so than those brought about by Self-like Parts. Self-like Parts are Manager Parts that often think, act, and behave much like the client’s Self. However, these parts are actually using qualities of Self (e.g., compassion, curiosity, care etc) as a strategy to do a particular job, versus the Self which just possesses these qualities without an end goal or purpose in mind. It’s the agenda-driven function the Self-like Part holds that actually differentiates it from the client’s Self.


You may ask, “What is the harm of letting a Self-like Part run your life (or your therapy)?” particularly ones that actually have a lot of care or compassion for younger parts of the internal system. Well, most importantly, Self-like Parts are not equipped to heal psychological wounds. This is because often Self-like Parts are often very young themselves. For example, if you have a personal history where you learned early in your life that the way to get love and validation from an unwell or unstable parent was to caretake them or be their confidant, you may have developed a Self-like part who is caring, kind, and very attentive to other’s needs. However, when you unblend from this and ask the part how the part how old it is, or how long has it being doing it’s job, it will likely give you a single digit age or tell you it’s being doing it’s job “forever”. So, these very young parts of the system do not have the emotional maturity and wisdom to help younger parts of your internal system as they too are carrying a burden (in this case, caring for a parent when they should have been cared for). Only the Self can do this, as it is the only true agent of healing in IFS as it possess the capacity to heal.

In IFS sessions, when Self-like Parts are trying to do the work, there is a different emotional tone to the connection, something feels like it’s missing (often a sense of authenticity on behalf of the client towards the younger parts) and also the pacing of the session is too quick, too easy, or it stops or gets blocked. Visually, when the client can actually see themselves with a part, this is another key indicator that a Self-like Part is trying to run an interaction. Also, younger parts of the system may be quite uncooperative as they know that they’re not dealing with the client’s true Self. These are all signs that the Self-like Part is trying to do the work of the Self.


Awareness of Self-like Parts is therefore important, however, it’s important to remember that Self-like Parts aren’t “bad”, they are just a subset of Managers that are trying to do the best and they are carrying their own burden, and can be worked with effectively to let the client’s Self lead the internal system.


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