Core Concepts of Internal Family Systems Therapy

IFS consists of working with the Self and Parts (Managers, Firefighters, and Exiles).


A foundational aspect of IFS is the existence of Self. Self is the innate presence within each person that is the pure essence of who they are. It is inherently good and cannot be broken, damaged, or corrupted. Self can offer healing and harmony to the entire internal system.

The qualities of Self include:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Calm
  3. Clarity
  4. Connectedness
  5. Confidence
  6. Courage
  7. Creativity
  8. Compassion


The existence of parts is a core concept in IFS. Sometimes referred to as subpersonalities, each part has their own experiences, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings. There are no bad parts, only bad roles. Parts often perform jobs or roles to help the person navigate life. Universally across people, there appear to be three common roles that parts take on adaptively to survive in the world, becoming extreme in times of great distress, trauma, and injury. Two of those roles are protective in nature; they’re called managers and firefighters. The parts being protected are generally more vulnerable and are called exiles, as they are typically hidden away.


Managers are the proactive protectors of the system. Their goals include keeping the system stable and being prepared. Managers look for ways to control the system so that exiled parts are kept out of awareness. The fear of most managers is that the exiled parts might come to the surface and overwhelm the system with the intensity of the memories and feelings they hold. 


Firefighters are the reactive protectors of the system. Firefighters step in when an exiled part has broken through the managers’ defenses. Their goal is to stop the system from feeling the pain that exiles carry. This may initially start with less intense behaviors such as smoking cigarettes, seeking out adrenaline-producing experiences, or overworking. However, firefighters are often polarized with managers who despise the ways firefighters act out. This polarity can cause the tactics firefighters use to escalate to extremes such as binge eating, self-harm or suicide attempts, or drug use.


Exiles are the parts that carry the most extreme memories and feelings. They are often some of the youngest parts of the system. They hold the experiences of abuse, neglect, humiliation, and shame. A part becomes an exile when the trauma they have endured is so great that other parts effectively lock them away in an effort to protect the system from becoming overwhelmed. 

If you are interested in IFS, please complete the secure online referral form and indicate IFS interest in the Reason for Referral section.