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All artwork ©/™ Sharon Sargent Eckstein & Backwoods Press, 2012. Graphics and Web Site by Jane Eckstein.

The ways in which our Parts become separated from Self are as many as there are people on this earth. Usually, danger to Self is perceived and Parts take over, much like a President being whisked away to an underground shelter in the case of a national threat; the staff and generals take over. But what is misunderstood about Self, is that Self can never be harmed; only Parts get hurt. Parts soon forget Self is the source of our strength, wisdom, guidance and healing. They think they know better and do not trust Self to lead.  But as long as we operate out of our Parts without Self-Leadership we will experience internal and external conflict, chaos and body, mind and spiritual exhaustion.

 Tom Holmes likens Self to the conductor of an orchestra, leading our inner Parts (ego) in harmony, easily bringing forth the Parts that are needed at the time.  It is the place within us of courage, connectedness, calmness, confidence, curiosity, and clarity, the place of mindful awareness. When things happen in life and we have Self-Leadership we are not spinning around in a reactionary flurry, instead we are able to calmly observe the situation and make wise choices.

 If you are a therapist or are seeking therapy, Inner Active Cards can give visual clarity to the Internal Family System process as the cards capture the character of your “Parts” and bring them into material form.  Clients and therapists agree that the images transcend gender, race, age, and allow for broad individual interpretations. Inner Active Cards combined with a basic understanding of IFS as provided by Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner Life ( even the lay person can gain significant insight and transformational  healing on their own, however we do recommend therapy with a therapist trained in IFS for those with serious psychological disturbances and/or suicidal thoughts.  A listing of IFS therapists in your area is available at the Center for Self-leadership web site: .

Self is not considered a Part, but rather the “core” of our being from which we can observe our Parts with compassion and understanding. Carl Jung (Swiss psychologist , 1875 – 1961) referred to Self as “that center of being which the ego circumambulates.” This concept is expressed by poet Robert Frost, “ We dance around a ring and suppose, but the Secret lies in the middle and knows.” This can be viewed as a “Spiritual” component of  Parts Work, which makes it different from other psychotherapy models such as CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy), however neither Parts Work nor IFS subscribe to any particular religion.

Most Parts cooperate with each other and the inner family works with varying degrees of Self-leadership, however some Parts can become extreme, believing they know what’s best, and although their intentions are meant for the benefit of the system, they can do more harm than good.

Yet, in IFS and Parts Work they are not necessarily viewed as pathological, rather misguided as they have become separated from Self. And they work hard at what they believe is best – with some, unfortunately, causing a lot of problems. Yet, in IFS there is no such thing as a “bad” person, only misguided Parts, and these Parts can be brought back to Self under the guidance of a trained IFS therapist.

All Parts form with the intention of protecting the system and making sure the individual’s needs are being met, whether this means social acceptance, self-expression, or surviving disease, trauma or abuse.

Internal Family Systems (IFS),a psychotherapy modality developed by Richard Schwartz, PhD, and Parts Work  by Tom Holmes, PhD embraces the concept of multiplicity; that is, the personality (ego) is not unitary, but rather composed of many sub-personalities, interacting like a family with each “Part” in a specialized role with unique behaviors and beliefs. IFS and Parts Work propose Parts develop their positions in response to biology and genetics (how a person is hardwired), as well as environment, life events, trauma and disease.

And look at all the Parts that are being suppressed in the basement; Children, Creative parts, Caring Parts and a Free-spirit part.  Maybe it was the Free-spirit under the influence of too many tequila shots that posed for those nude pictures.  And look at the Exiles in the fall-out shelter.  Who knows what painful burdens they hold.  Even you don’t remember, but sometimes you find yourself in the kitchen eating a quart of ice cream and a box of pop tarts to quell the anxiety that makes you feel like you’re going to implode. And your body is breaking down. Although your central nervous system is working overtime to make the necessary repairs – like the car in the garage – your lifestyle contradicts what you know is good for you.  You have high blood pressure, arthritis, and diabetes, but you’re too busy multi-tasking to do anything about it. You just can’t seem to focus.  

Its time to a find therapist who practices Internal Family Systems or Parts Work and Inner Active Cards can help.

The House in Your Head

Imagine a house within yourself that is full of people, animals, plants, electronic devices,  monsters, just like any average household. The house has many levels with a living room, kitchen, bedroom, garage, basement and a deep dark fall-out shelter, just like any average house.  Only this house has a central core, the wisdom room. This core connects like WIFI to all of life on calming waves of compassion, courage, and caring and guides the inhabitants through life internally as well as in the external world.

You’d think that the inhabitants (lets call them “Parts”) of your internal house would allow the Central Core of Compassionate Wisdom (lets call this “Self”) to run the household, but often times the Parts, take control because they believe they know better.

When something threatens you in the outer world, your inner world can be thrown into chaos, requiring a “Manager” to emerge from the basement and ascend to the living room (your waking consciousness) to get things in order. “Protectors” may rise up too and whisk your Child and other Vulnerable parts down to the basement, or fall-out shelter. Self, also seen to be imperiled, is sent along to safety with the other vulnerable arts.  These Parts may author a script about what they believed happened and develop rigid roles and behaviors to ensure survival of your inner household.  Self may be excluded from this exchange because the Managers and Protectors perceive Self as being to vulnerable to lead in a crisis.  While their intentions are honorable, the results may be devastating. 

In this illustration of the “Your Internal House”, you see someone from the outer world approaching you.  Imagine he is there to serve divorce papers, or a maybe he works for a bank or the government and is there to repossess your car or collect back taxes. Or maybe he is a person from HR come to tell you that you’ve been fired from your job because of the nude pictures posted on Facebook.  Some wild part took over your living room at the Christmas party and now you’re in deep trouble.  No wonder there’s a Policeman, a Critic, a Boss, and an Analyzer gathered in the living room while a Multi-tasking Part carries on  like everything is under control. A Self-righteous Part will soon join them to compensate for any shame that might creep in and Anger is ascending the stairs and will soon be on the scene to lash out at the accuser.