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Glossary of IFS Terms

IFS Glossary

Terms will be added to on an ongoing basis. Definitions are taken from the IFS Institute Level 1 Training Manual, by Mariel Pastor and Jennifer Gauvain (2020).


Burdens: The extreme ideas and feeling states that accrue from frightening or shaming interactions or events, carried by parts on or in their bodies.

C’s x 8: See Self

Exiles: Parts of a system that are sequestered out of sight and out of consciousness, either for their own protection or to protect the rest of the system from their feelings.

Firefighters: Parts who react quickly, aiming either to calm an exiled part or distract from it (e.g. dissociation) after exiled feelings and beliefs have been evoked.

Managers: Parts who run a system in ways that aim to minimise the activation (distress) of its exiles.

Ps x 5: See Self

Parts: The word IFS uses for subpersonalities. Parts behave like internal people of different ages, temperaments, and talents, and respond best when related to as such.

Editorial Note: It is PARTS & SELF policy to give Parts a capital P when we mean an entity that is a Part; when speaking about a part, as of a whole, this would have a small p. Elsewhere within IFS writing, a small p is often used for Parts, as we see here, in this glossary. We do not apply this Parts capitalization policy to work published herein, in languages other than English, due to national linguistic specifics connected to capitalization.

Polarization: A state in which two members or groups in the same system take opposing views and conflict or compete. They each grow increasingly extreme out of fear of the other side taking over and con obscure the Self of the system.

Self: The seat of consciousness, which is characterised by qualities such as perspective, presence, patience, playfulness, persistence, curiosity, creativity, calm, clear-headed, caring, connectedness, confidence, and compassion. The Self is the only inner entity that is fully equipped to lead the internal family.

Self energy: The perspectives and feelings that our Self brings into the relationship with our parts.

Self-led: When an individual has the capacity to hear, understand, and be present with parts, acknowledging and appreciating the importance of their roles in the internal family system and with other people.

Unburdening: The process in which an exiled part lets go of the painful emotions and beliefs it has been carrying; often involves a ceremonial release to one of the elements in the mind’s eye. After unburdening, the part invites qualities of its own choosing to come and full the space made by releasing the burden. The qualities of the Self (listed under Self in this glossary) are common choices.

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    PARTS & SELF is an online, multimedia, open access magazine, published by the Foundation for Self Leadership, since October 2022.

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