When working with clients I think in terms of
WHAT vs HOW
CONTENT vs PROCESS.
The following series of questions is my scaffolding for tracking process/how in an IFS session. Almost no IFS session will simply run through these question in exactly this order. We will take several side trips as we get to know whatever parts show up. After each side trip, I return to my scaffolding.
What’s the story of the situation?
There’s a door here to go deeper and learn about your system. Do you want this door? Or is there something more important you’d like to focus on?
FOCUS (in your body)
What's the first moment you realize that you're struggling?
Now drop your attention in your body and notice: How do you know you're struggling? What's happening inside that you know something's up?
Location: Face, Jaw, Throat, Shoulders, Chest, Belly
Sensation: Heavy, Tight, Hollow, Twisting, Piercing, Aching
Is this okay to feel? Or is it too much?
FRIEND - A PROTECTOR (usually first)
As this is the most common side trip in IFS, I’m including it here. Once in a great while (and more and more as you work with your system) you will get immediate access to an exile (tender/vulnerable emotions), if that happens you can skip down to FRIEND - AN EXILE. Otherwise:
Turn your attention towards those sensations and SEE if you can welcome them. Is it okay to let this touch your nervous system?
Notice how this part responds to your welcoming.
Is it okay? Skeptical, rejecting, wary, angry, glad, relieved, confused,
Notice how you feel towards this part.
+ Irritated, scared, sad, embarrassed?
+ Warm, expansive, peaceful, loving?
If you're feeling anything other than warm, expansive, peaceful, loving, OR curious. See if those other parts are willing to step back so you can get a really good connection with the first part.
IF those parts won't step back, maybe they need to warn us about being in contact with these parts or sensations. We want to hear every single detail of that warning. We never ever gatecrash parts. This is hands down the most common (and necessary) side trip.
FRIEND - AN EXILE
It can take several sessions to get here, so be patient. We never ever want to gatecrash protectors. Protectors take up their posts for good reason (even if those reasons are far away in the past) and they are fiercely loyal. Our first priority is to HONOR and validate those reasons as real (even if we don’t know what they are yet) and work to EARN (not demand) the trust of the protectors. Protectors will step back when they’re ready. That’s when we get access to the exile.
When the protector relaxes or steps aside, notice what you find.
The goal of exile work:
I'm not trying to fix, or change, or give myself a new experience.
I'm not trying to change my emotions.
I'm not trying to get happy or okay.
I'm simply here to love whatever I find.
When I love whatever I find, the system relaxes and the evolutionary wisdom baked into emotion begins to run its course and metabolize whatever experience I have already had. In this culture we tell people to "let it go." My lived experience is that when we are warm and gentle, present and open to whatever discomfort shows up, emotions and pain and
PARTS LET US GO.
The body/mind returns ITSELF to calm.
Whatever you find, notice if you are able to
Make “inner” eye contact with that?
Move closer to that?
Let that touch your nervous system?
And notice (this is important) if the part can take in
Your Eye contact
Or if this part is skeptical or wary
Once you have a connection, ask this part
Is there anything you wish I understood or knew about you? about your experience? about your job?
Is there anything/any part of your life or your experience in me, you'd like witnessed?
Keep beaming your love and offering your much bigger nervous system to the part, “I didn't understand before, but I do now. You've been down here so long and you don't have to be alone anymore. I'm here now. I'm with you.”
References: Find, Focus, Friend, Flesh Out are terms introduced in IFS 1 training.