The You-Turn

Drop your attention in your body and notice, how do you know you’re struggling right now?

When we’re triggered; when hard things happen, most of us tend to focus on fixing the situation, and eliminating the trigger. This is often VERY useful and it’s certainly helpful at work, and in being accountable with your life. Stressed because you’re spending more money than you have? Working more and spending less is an adaptive response. Trigger management is useful, but it isn’t the only way to work with our pain.

When we look at trigger management as the main way to interact with emotional pain we end up with about 3 ways managing our pain:

  1. Fixing triggers - problem solving, planning, controlling, DOING something

  2. Avoiding - avoid topics, people, tasks, situations that leave us feeling bad

  3. Numbing - the big two strategies for this are alcohol and drugs, but there are many ways to numb TV, shopping, eating, sex, reading, obsessing, and many other names this strategy goes by, compartmentalizing, dissociating, fantasizing.

Before we move on I want to be unequivocal. None of these things are inherently bad or fundamentally problematic. None. What makes these things a problem is not engaging in them, but engaging them compulsively. All of these things can be helpful at the right times. What’s problematic is when we can’t help but engage them, even when we know they’re not useful or when we know they actually harmful. Yes even the drug one. I’m so grateful for the pain medication that numbed me when I had surgery.

The IFS process doesn’t force us to either use these strategies or leave them behind. The IFS process asks us to turn inside and engage with what’s already in us. We (along with our parts) will decide when or if we will use these strategies in a choiceful way.

And that process begins with a “You-Turn”

The 4th option: The You-Turn

How it works: First we’ve gotta wake up to the discomfort. Often we get so focused on doing something, and those do-something strategies have been so effective and reinforced, that we don’t even notice we are struggling or in pain. So we’ve got to get to know how we know we’re in pain. [there’s room for an article here about learning pain signals - like if I leave the room, I can pretty much guarantee that I’m in pain even if I don’t feel it yet]. Sometimes we notice in the moment, sometime we notice hours or days later.

Play the situation out in your mind. Look at what happened or what’s happening and then notice your reaction to it. Watch yourself in your mind’s eye almost like you’re watching a friend go through something. This is the You-Turn: With as much curiosity as you can muster, drop your attention into your body and notice what’s already happening in, on, and around your body.

  • Notice what’s already happening your face. Your jaw. Your throat. Your shoulders. Your chest. Your gut. What’s already happening there?

    • Notice your heart, is it beating fast or slow?

    • Notice your breathing, is it deep or shallow, high in your chest or low in your belly, easy to get a full breath or constricted?

    • Is your jaw clenched or relaxed?

    • Belly calm or tight? Butterflies? Swirling? Hollow?

    • Is what your experiencing closer to a fight response? Flight? Freeze? Trust your answer whatever it is, and then just notice, how are sensing the difference?

As you place your attention on these different body parts the sensations may move or change or they may stay the same. Both outcomes are totally okay. Just let your attention follow them as they move or stay.

What we’re aiming to do here is have a whole brain experience. The mind is part of the body an as we get in contact with the body we get deeper contact with the mind. The more aware of what the body is doing, the better. If the above questions get you there, stick with that. If that’s not quite enough don’t worry, we’ll just keep at it. For those of us raised in emotionally neglectful households or emotion rejecting cultures it can take some practice to wake up to your body. Here are some more things to notice to try expanding your curiosity.

  • Notice your emotions - Are you mad? Sad? Scared? Embarrassed? Now notice how do you know you’re mad? What body sensations go with a mad feeling? What body sensations go we sad? Scared? Embarrassed? Trust your sense of how you feel and then notice how you know.

    • Is it in your chest? What's the sensation? Heavy? Tight? Stabbing? Aching? Clenching? Sore? What else let’s you know what emotion you’re experiencing?

  • Notice your posture, your body movements, and where or how your body WANTS to move even if you don’t let yourself act. Do you want to change where you are, how you’re standing or sitting? Do you have the sudden urge to be someplace else. Someplace not here?

  • Notice your voice, how it sounds, what you say, what you want to say, what you stop yourself from saying, what you wish you didn’t or hadn’t said.

  • Notice what you tell yourself about that situation. Notice the voices in and the tone of those voices in your head. Notice if these are familiar. Are all the thoughts different? Or do they seem to recycle after a while? Is there a pattern to that recycle? Do you get images with those thoughts? Little movies of the past (memories) or movies about possible futures (working out strategies or imagining worst-case-scenarios).

  • Even if you aren’t able to locate it, notice if you have a sense of anything.

  • Notice how so much of what’s happening inside is almost happening on it’s own. Many of the reactions you’re noticing are knee jerk. Our job here isn’t to control the reactions any more than you already are. Our job here is to bring awareness and curiosity to these reactions.

[Why is everyone so interested in body sensation? potential link to another article here]


• Is it okay to notice these feelings and sensations. Is it okay to linger there for a minute? Send it your acknowledgment. I see you.


• What emotion do you most associate with this sensation?


• Look for other pieces to this part. If you have sensation look for urge, if you have urge look for an image or a sensation in the body. You want to fill out as much of the aspects of the part as possible

§ Sensation

§ Emotion

§ Thoughts or Thought Patterns

§ Urge

§ Image

§ Feeling

§ Memories

• What does this part wish you knew or understood about it?

• Does that make sense to you? If so,… let it know, “I get you. I understand.” And let this part see your eyes. You of all people on planet earth really get this part.

• Just kind of hang out with it and see what it wants you to know in this moment

§ Hang out until it can trust you a little bit. Let it get to know you a little bit. See if it wants to know you.

• What do you notice about it? What kind of sadness is this? What kind of sensation is this in the body? What's the nature/quality of the sensation?

• Let's see if we can

§ just be with this part [repeat whatever was said]

• Every time an emotion comes up… can you be with that?

• Stay with that _____ [whatever was said last]. See if you can…


§ feel into this part

§ Get any sense of this emotion _____ in your body. Just see how you experience that

§ Notice where you feel this in your body

§ Be with that place __________ [location in body]

§ Describe it to me. What kind of sensations

§ Texture, color weight

§ Describe it as heavy or light. What's the quality of sensation

§ Dark, very, light, bright,

§ Notice if there are any feelings or emotions connected to this ____________ [emotion]

§ Notice if there's a part connected with the emotion _______

§ What kind of sensation: texture, color

§ Notice if that part is

§ Younger, older or familiar?

§ What feelings are connected to this sensation?

§ If this were a part, what part would it be?

§ Notice where you feel in body

§ What do you notice?

§ Notice the sensation

§ Notice the quality of the sensation

§ Big, little, middle

§ How does the person know the part is there? How do you sense this part? Is it

§ Visual - do you see him?

§ Kinesthetic - do you sense/feel him?

§ Auditory - do you hear him?








Reflect it back in parts language.

i. "As you look at all these parts. Notice which part do you feel curious about? Which part do you want to know more about?"

ii. "Perfect. Just drop your attention in your body and notice when happens inside when you think about that."

2. Find the part in or around the body - drop your attention into your body

i. Cultivate Curiosity

ii. Build a sequence

iii. You-Turn - You're standing there in the kitchen, he makes a face, and you start to feel bad. How do you know you feel bad. I believe you… I just want to come along. What happens in your body that helps you know you feel bad?



When working with clients I think in terms of



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?

+ Impatient?

+ Curious?

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.


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


The body/mind returns ITSELF to calm. 

 Whatever you find, notice if you are able to

Welcome that?

Love that?

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 Welcome

Your Love

Your Eye contact

Your Presence

Your Support

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.