I recently ran a self-fidelity mini-retreat here in Melbourne. During the event we played with exploring the different parts of ourselves using nested-doll sets. Many of the participants shared in their feedback forms that this exercise was extremely insightful and helpful.

The Internal Family Systems model (IFS) pioneered by Dr Richard Schwartz empowers people to heal themselves by understanding and listening to their different “parts” and, in the process, unburdening themselves of extreme beliefs and emotions.

In the words of Richard Schwartz “Your emotions and thoughts are much more than they seem [they] emanate from inner personalities I call ‘parts’. (…) What we call “thinking” is often our inner dialogue with different parts of ourselves.”

As we release our parts from their extreme roles, we are able to reconnect with our Essential Self, access our goodness and embody innate qualities such as; compassion, confidence, courage, playfulness, patience, creativity, curiosity, and perspective (to name just a few).

IFS uses the following three-group model* to categories our different ‘parts’ and the roles they commonly play in our lives:

  • Managers: Parts that run our day-to-day lives. These parts try to keep exiles exiled by staying in control of events or relationships, being perfect and pleasing, caretaking, scaring us out of taking risks by criticizing, apathy, worry, and so on.
  • Firefighters: Parts that react when exiles are activated in an effort to extinguish their feelings or dissociate us from them. Common firefighter activities include; all forms of numbing, drug or alcohol use, binge eating, social media, mindless content consumption or shopping, over-working, over-exercising and rage. Firefighters have the same goals as managers (to keep exiles away) but employ different, more impulsive strategies
  • Exiles: Young, vulnerable parts that have experienced trauma and are isolated from the rest of our system for their own and the system’s protection. Exiles carry the memories, sensations, and emotions of the events and are stuck in the past.

Self-Fidelity Practice To Play With

When you can become mindfully curious about your parts with the assumption that they might have something to tell you, you can begin to get to know them. From there, you can begin to appreciate them – and over time you can release them from their extreme roles.

When you work with your parts, it is essential to work with just one part at a time. It is recommended that you start by getting to know your manager parts.

Your manager might show up as your Inner Controller, Striver, Judge, Planner, Pessimist or Self-Critic .

My inner manager is that part of me that often tries to convince me that I am way to busy to meditate, relax or muck about with my kids. It feels like I have never done enough. It believes (wrongly) that I can achieve my way to worthiness.

If you can embody a state of mindful curiosity, you can begin to get to know your inner manager. To do this successfully, you must feel able to extend genuine appreciation to this part of you for at least trying to keep you safe and connected.

Here are some great questions to ask your inner manager:

  • What role do you play in my life?
  • Is there something you want me to know?
  • What are you afraid would happen if you did not take on this role inside of me?
  • What do you need from me in the future?

My post Little Cassie speaks to the vital role the IFS model has played in my own personal development journey.

My post Your Inner Manager links to a great meditation that will support you to meet your parts.

If you would like to learn more about IFS and your parts, listening to this recent conversation between Richard Schwartz and Tim Ferriss (or reading the transcript) is a great place to start.


Being able to identify parts of me and working out who’s in the drivers seat has been the most valuable part of this experience. Whilst all my parts are valuable, they might be taking me to places I don’t want to go.  Self-Fidelity Mini-Retreat Participant


*SOURCE: Introduction to The Internal Family Systems Model, Richard C. Schwartz, Ph. D www.ifs-institute.com