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The Basics of Self Leadership: Self Awareness and Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)

ifs self awareness selfleadership Jun 22, 2021


In order to understand self leadership, you must understand yourself. This is called self awareness. This is the ability to observe your thoughts, feelings and actions. Many of us believe we have the ability to be self aware when we are in fact being self critical. Self criticism has its place but it is not to be confused with self awareness. When you can observe yourself with curiosity rather than judgement, you are self aware.

The easiest way to begin to develop a high level of self awareness is to be able to separate your “Self” from your “parts.” Most of us go through our days being led by various parts of our system. Parts are a concept rooted in Internal Family Systems Therapy but can be understood simply when you hear yourself say something like, “a part of me wants to but a part of me doesn’t”. 

Parts, also known as sub-personalities, or in IFS terms, “internal family members”, operate based on their unique role in your system. This role was developed from experiences. While one part of you is excited to go out and meet new people, another part of you is afraid and timid. Why is this? Because one part has held onto memories that reinforce excitement, while the other has held onto memories that reinforce fear and timidity. Both parts are valid. Both are valuable. Both want the same thing. But they have different ideas of how to get that accomplished. 

Being self led means you listen to your parts and you make a decision for the entirety of your system based on your full understanding of life developed from a full understanding of your experiences. But you can’t do that if you are not aware parts are present. Again, your first step is to develop a high level of self awareness.

As you just read, in order to be self aware you need to approach yourself with curiosity not judgement. (When you are observing with judgement you are actually observing your parts from a part!) To have genuine curiosity it is helpful to understand what your parts want. Every part of you wants to do their job excellently. Every part of you has a job to do. A part’s primary job is to keep you safe, to keep you from experiencing trauma and to keep you alive. If that primary function is perceived to be fulfilled, parts’ secondary job is to help you thrive. 

But what about parts that are self-destructive, or angry, or depressed? It may not make sense to you now, but with time, you come to understand the motives behind all your actions, thoughts, and feelings are designed to take care of you. The reason it doesn’t always feel that way, is because you have allowed parts to lead you. Parts are not meant to lead. They are meant to enhance your self leadership.

By using the framework of parts to understand your system, you have a roadmap that allows you to peel back the layers of who you are, why you do what you do, why you think what you think, why you feel what you feel. If you do this with curiosity, calm, and compassion, you are not only being self aware you are establishing self leadership. Through this process you have the ability to influence parts healthfully, to help them feel successful in their jobs, to release them from the burden of leadership, and to integrate them into your system in ways that enhance the entirety of you.

Want to learn more about how to use Internal Family Systems therapy? Get my 30 Days Program and become self aware and self led by understanding how to work with your unique, diverse, and beautiful parts!

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