KnowledgeWhat is IFS?

IFS as Window

I am one of a growing number of individuals, who has joined the IFS community, from outside the psychotherapy world. After coming across IFS in 2007, my first service engagement with it was as an independent strategic-visioning consultant to The Center for Self Leadership (the precursor to the IFS Institute -see footnote – back in 2011). Then, through synergistic involvement with others around facilitating independent IFS research, I was fortunate to have played a role, during the Summer of 2013, in activating the non-profit Foundation for Self Leadership (through which PARTS & SELF is published) and privileged to have been able to contribute to leading the Foundation ever since.

If I am sharing all this, it is simply to say that, by virtue of my responsibility and scope and depth of involvement, I’ve become intimately attuned to the comings and goings of IFS-related efforts, witnessing with a smile the steady growth of this community and the expanding demand for training in the IFS modality. I’ve observed many a dialogue about “what IFS is” and “what IFS can do.”

While defining IFS may not be an easy undertaking, it is not the focus of my commentary here. Enough has been written about it, in various styles and languages and with a wide vocabulary. It is a model that can be backed up through scientific proof or personal intuition. One knows IFS when one experiences it, as is commonly stated. Think of gravity as a model, proven empirically and recognized through intimate interaction (step off a diving platform and you won’t ask again!). My interest here is to respond to the common statements I hear bandied about:

IFS can do this; IFS can do that; making it sound as if IFS is a third party to one’s self-discovery or healing process.

Granted, IFS is a paradigm of the human psyche that posits each of us (our psyche) can be modeled as a complex system of “inner” elements—non-physiological elements with possibly tangible physiological and behavioral effects.

 Once these notions have been presented and a guiding approach shared about how to meet, interact with, and navigate these elements, IFS has done its job.

The ultimate goal of IFS doing its job is to achieve balance and integration within. I think of it this way, IFS is a window that opens to the “inside of each of us.” We open it and look inward.

And my vistas may resemble yours. We may have similar flora and fauna. We may have a common source of sun and water. Yet, my vistas are vastly different from yours. Through “my” window – a window which IFS helped me install and maintain – I’m now looking at my vistas, and no longer at the window itself and certainly not paying heed to the installation.

A good window, one could argue, has a clear enough glass pane (non-glare, tempered, low-E) that I don’t even notice the glass itself any longer. As a barrier, it must provide me refuge from cold, rain and noise and offer me a sharp view, so that I feel that nothing separates me from the view I’m seeing. And, hopefully, it is wide and double-hung so I can readily clean it if needed to remove any fogginess or blemishes on either side of it.

Such is IFS. A window. One that could provide me with unique clarity as I pay attention to my emotions and thoughts and how I process them. It lets the light in so I can see; but it is the “I that makes me who I am” which I am seeing, not IFS.

Once the window space is created in a wall and a window to see through is installed—once IFS has introduced me to the vista of myself—the view that was hidden behind a wall is now stretched before my eyes (or my mind’s eye), maybe for the first time and not to be blocked from view again.

IFS would have made it possible for me to meet my Parts and my Self. They are “my” Parts, though. It’s “my” relationship with them that is now in plain view. Whether Self is a universal notion, living inside of me or outside of me, it is still my relationship with Self and its relationship with my Parts that now matters.

Maybe when the window is installed an IFS installation mark is branded somewhere on it… yet, the window pane is clear of any writing.

It is true that for the Foundation for Self Leadership and the IFS Institute, looking at the window and continuing to enhance its design and functionality are part of what they do. For the ultimate practitioner of IFS, however, the value of the model lies in looking through it.

The only marks we see are the writings, voices and disposition of our own inner Parts and our own core essence. How we access them is up to us.

Ultimately, the window gets opened. We breathe in the fresh air. We slowly come to enjoy the details in the landscape.

Thank you, IFS. With the window now installed, the vistas are wide open for me to explore.

Editorial Note: IFS Institute is the official home of the IFS trainings, conferences, and resources. It is distinct from the Foundation for Self Leadership, which is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting independent IFS research, incubating new applications of the model, and engaging in advocacy. The two organizations have separate financial, legal and governance systems.


Toufic Hakim, PhD is Executive Director of the Foundation for Self Leadership

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