For some it might be very challenging to fully embrace next–stage values and practices and embody them. It often requires a dramatic perspective shift beyond purely cognitive understanding. This article highlights why and how individual practice of Internal Family Systems® (IFS®) might be conducive to helping struggling team members or aspiring practitioners deeply understand and embrace the foundations of next–stage practices in organizational settings through direct personal experience.
The basic premise of IFS® is that our personality is composed of parts that are like subpersonalities with their own qualities and perspectives. Another one of the principles is that all parts are an integral part of the whole system and that every part has something to contribute and cannot be excluded. Also, when parts are taken care of, they can relax giving space to “Self–energy” which is the wise and authentic essence of our humanity around which parts can organize. Then it is called Self–leadership.
What is IFS® and what are its roots?
The default way of thinking about the mind has been the “mono-mind” paradigm – there is one monolithic mind, which at most has layers of depth, resembling a metaphorical onion. IFS® is based on a multiplicity of mind paradigm, one that consists of many parts, more akin to the cloves of garlic, each with individual characteristics yet forming a cohesive whole. For those interested, I refer to an in-depth discussion of the subject in the article on this website.
In a nutshell, during an IFS® session, the practitioner facilitates the contact of the client with his parts, where he explores his internal system, its diversity, interconnectedness, and various purposes of different parts that make up his whole personality.
How does IFS® specifically align with the next–stage paradigm?
It is wholeness-oriented – It is based on the assumption that each part of us has positive intentions and unique contributions. Sometimes, these parts take on extreme roles – they want to protect us from potential harm, for example, avoiding confrontation with a problem to shield us from shame or a sense of failure. These burdens prevent them from contributing in a healthy way. The aim is to work with understanding and unburdening the part so it can take its natural place in the system without disowning and isolating it. Parts cannot be let go.
It is systemic & transparent – Next-stage shift in organizations is a person having many roles in an organization (analogous to the multiplicity of mind paradigm) instead of a job description (analogous to mono–mind paradigm). Similarly, a person has many parts that form their internal system. The systemic nature of our psyches allows us to trace which parts interact with each other and in what order, on what occasions. This allows for greater inner transparency as well as allows us to embrace the true complexity of how we function.
It is holonic & purpose–based – Parts can form various groups and some more complex parts can also have parts themselves! So a part is already whole in and of itself, as well as a part of a larger whole. They have purposes and are organized around a common goal. Once understood and unburdened they can update their purpose and reorganize around it. It’s worth noting that some very young parts do not have a purpose and are more similar to inner children that need care from the authentic Self (preferably) or other parts (usually).
It’s transcendental and emergent – When parts are taken care of, what one can experience is their essential “Self–energy”. The Self is considered to be the essence of who we truly are, characterized by qualities such as curiosity, compassion, calmness, clarity, and confidence. It is from this state that we can energize our roles with a lifegiving authentic energy and also can listen to and access the deeper purpose or calling around which the rest of the parts can organize around. Then it is called Self–leadership.
How can all this support next–stage work?
The basic premise is that a personal, intimate experience of many of the values and perspectives within the framework of one’s mind and body will give a person a robust point of reference on how to understand and apply them in the outwardly organizational context. IFS® is close to the next–stage paradigm, or maybe even one might argue is a next–stage inner work modality. It can be successfully used to aid people in grasping next–stage concepts in a one-to-one setting through direct experience to transfer to other contexts.
More specifically the benefits can include:
better understanding of the systemic nature of the organization: its roles and complex dynamics through hands-on experience of one’s own internal system
direct experience of diversity and the need for, as well as the value of, wholeness and inclusiveness, through understanding the personal discomfort connected with disowning a part of self
access to vitalizing, authentic Self energy to energize various roles, when parts are soothed and understood
direct personal felt sense experience of evolutionary purpose (life energy) greater and expanded capacity to recognize and attune to it
What can be your next step?
If you find this approach intriguing and currently face a challenge where you or your client could benefit from such support, or if you’re simply curious about the method you can:
Konrad Olesiewicz – Certified ICC Coach, IFS® Practitioner and Trained True Purpose® Coach. I help entrepreneurs & leaders find the inner support they need for the next stage of their professional journey.
 The idea of multiplicity of mind is not a new one. It can be traced back to Socrates and Plato, who claimed that the mind is at least dual. More modern models of multiplicity can be traced to Assagioli, Freud’s former student who claimed it to be a natural state and developed Psychosynthesis.
Similarly, this idea was shared by Fitz Perls, who developed Gestalt therapy, the famous Carl Jung and Eric Berne, who developed Transactional Analysis. Currently used modalities that base on multiplicity paradigm include Voice Dialogue by Hal and Sidra Stone, schema therapy and Focusing. For more information on the subject, I refer to this article.
Internal Family Systems® itself was formulated by Dr. Richard Schwartz in the 1980s. Currently, it is a rapidly evolving form of inner work, and one needs to sign up for very long waiting lists for training sessions. Initially used for therapy it is also used in trauma–informed coaching and other contexts. IFS emerged from clinical practice, combining systemic thinking with family therapy, but it is also a theory of the mind and personality.
The main differences between IFS® and other parts–based modalities are that IFS®:
in addition to working with parts also focuses on relationships between them
in addition to interacting with parts also focuses on deepening our relationship with our parts and supporting them in freeing from blockages and extreme roles
discovered existence of “Self–energy” present in people in absence of active parts and realized that from this place relationships with other parts can be fruitfully developed