Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a wonderful model developed by Richard Schwartz which acknowledges that we have different "parts" to us that serve different purposes called managers, firefighters, and exiles. Though some parts can better our lives, some parts end up causing us more suffering. Our parts are developed in response to our life experience, the intention being to help keep us safe. Usually a part is developed to protect or "manage" a piece of us that has been hurt or "exiled." Say, for example, when we were young we were continually yelled at and could not process this experience as it happened. Parts would be developed to try and keep us from getting hurt again. These parts or "managers" might come in the form of a part of us being timid, rebellious, or getting foggy. These managers, in a way, run interference, to try and keep us from getting hurt again. For some people, these manager parts aren't strong enough, so other methods, called "firefighters," are called in to drown out the pain. Some examples of firefighters might be raging, alcohol addiction, isolating, etc..
Many of our parts, particularly our managers, were initially developed at the time when a part of us was hurt and needed to be exiled to stay safe. Therefore our reactions and coping skills to something that comes close to this pain or exile can seem like that of a 2 year old, 5 year old, 10 year old, or teenager because that is the developmental age when that part came to be. Though these coping skills may be at an appropriate level for that age of development, they are usually not as useful for us as adults. We all know the experience of feeling taken over and acting younger than our age. Many times the responses of these parts have been unskillful, and at best, cause more suffering because of youthful inexperience. IFS strives to acknowledge, work with, and in a way, re-parent these parts that have been trying to manage our lives.
In IFS, we are ultimately trying to uncover and "unburden" the exile by meeting and working with her or him from the part of self that is separate and is an adult. This "higher self" has natural qualities such as; compassion, caring, curiosity, resilience, caring, calm, and creativity (thanks Bonnie Weiss). It is from this place that we can work with and heal our parts that have been in pain and exiled, freeing ourselves from these burdens so that we can move to a more satisfying and fulfilling life.