Monday, 4 July 2011

Internal Family Systems

Note: I (Lincoln) am posting here now instead of at my personal blog so that there can be comments attached to the post.

Another self-improvement technique we've been learning is IFS, which is another bullshit acronym. It stands for Internal Family Systems, but this has nothing to do with families. I guess it is internal to one's brain. Systems is a fluff word.

The elephant/rider metaphor is extended to indicate the presence of multiple elephants, all pulling in different directions. IFS as a procedure has you pinpoint the behavior of a particular elephant, in order to better model it, understand its behavior and drives, and possibly change it.

IFS terminology for the elephants is simply "a part [of you]". I will continue to call them elephants.

The procedure works like this: you identify an elephant that is causing you to behave in a certain way. Maybe it's annoying, maybe it makes you upset or maybe it is helpful. Then you imagine it in your brain, personify it, make friends with it and negotiate with it. All the elephats are considered to have good intentions -- they're providing you with useful data, at the very least, or averting you from pain, or whatever. The IFS process is supposed to help you align the elephants better towards achieving your goals.

If you're going to do IFS on yourself or on your friend, here are some questions you can ask:

  • Come up with an elephant to talk to. Think of something you keep doing and regretting, or a habit you'd like to change.

  • Think of a specific instance where you engaged in this behavior or thought or emotional pattern.

  • Imagine it in as much concrete detail as possible.

  • How would you feel about someone else engaging in this behavior or thought or emotional pattern at this time? Your goal is to feel curious. If you're not feeling curious, ask that feeling or concern to step aside so that you can be curious about it.

  • Now, regarding the elephant directly:

    • Personify it. What does it look like? Does it have a name? How do you experience it physically? (e.g., a prickling in the back of the neck)

    • How much does it trust you?

    • What is it saying?

    • What feelings, thoughts, and behaviors does it produce?

    • When is it active?

    • What is it trying to accomplish?

    • How long has it been around?

    • What data is it giving you?

    • Why are you grateful for this data?

    • What is it afraid of?

At this point, if you've been thoughtfully and honestly answering the questions, you should have a better model of the elephant and why it's behaving in that way. If you see a solution, try to make an agreement with the elephant, but if not, you can still gain well-being by having modeled it in this way, and maybe it won't bother you as much in the future. Or perhaps you will gain its trust.

Anyway, the procedure is pretty cute. I've used it on some friends, who reported some success after the fact, so I am inclined to believe it has some merit. At the very least, it seems generally healthy to treat your different emotions and drives as autonomous entities, as opposed to trying to suppress them. Not much luck on applying it to myself, but nothing which seems well suited for application either -- I mainly tried procrastination, but it seems better suited to emotional issues and anxieties.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting Lincoln -- IFS sounds like something I could use!