The next step in the IFS process (start here if you missed the first step) is to sort out where all your different thoughts and feelings are coming from. Once you know who’s who, you can separate out:
- your Self (your awareness/presence)
- the part you’re trying to get to know (the target part)
- and any other parts that are jumping in (the concerned parts)
Separating parts from your Self allows you to embody your inner wisdom and stay calm even while thinking about upsetting things. Separating parts from each other helps you get to know each one more deeply than you normally can. So let’s see how to do this!
The Magic Question
The who’s who process starts with the question “how do I feel towards this part?” Ask yourself how you feel towards the part you just connected to. Then see which of the following three categories your answer best fits into:
- Curiosity and/or compassion:
- “I want to get to know it better”
- “I wonder why it feels this way”
- “I appreciate it”
- “I feel sorry for it”
- The part’s own feeling:
- “I agree with it!”
- “I’m frustrated with this frustrated part”/”I’m confused about this confused part”, etc
- “I don’t feel towards it, I feel like I am it”
- Anything else:
- “I’m annoyed with it”
- “I’m embarrassed by it”
- “I’m afraid of it”
- “I want to tell it what to do”
- “I don’t feel anything towards it”
- “I feel confused”
- “I’m skeptical; is this even working?”
- “I want to analyze it”
- “I want to get to know it so I can reach my goal”
- “I have a theory about it”
- “I have a story about it”
- “I want to reassure it/make it feel better”
- “I can fix its problem”
Category 1: Self-energy
An answer that fits into category 1 means you have enough Self-energy coming through that you can get to know the part. You have separated your core presence from this part of you, which makes dialogue possible. The next post in this series will tell you how!
Category 2: Blended with the target part
An answer that fits into category 2 means that you are blended with the target part, seeing out of its eyes so to speak. The next step is to try to unblend your core Self from the target part.
The goal in unblending from the target part is not to get it to go away or even stop you from feeling its feelings, but just to have some inner separation between you and the part so that you can have a dialogue. When you’re blended, you can only have a monologue! This is the beautiful paradox of unblending: it’s less lonely to be separate than to be blended. The part is blending to get your attention, but it will actually get your attention more effectively if it unblends. Communicating this surprising but true fact to your part usually convinces it to unblend.
You can ask a part to unblend in a variety of ways:
- would you soften back a bit?
- can you put a little air between us?
- can you take a step back/pull your energy back a little bit, so I can be here with you?
- can you make some space for me to be here too?
- can you be with me instead of in me?
- or something else!
You’ll know this worked if you feel a shift. You may feel the part’s emotion less strongly. Now repeat the magic question “how do I feel towards this part?” and keep going through the process until your answer is in category 1.
Category 3: Blended with a concerned part
An answer that fits into category 3 means that you are blended with a part that’s concerned about you getting to know the target part (I use the term “concerned” following Jay Earley’s book Self Therapy, because it’s a convenient catch-all, but the part’s emotion can be all kinds of things; it may not feel “concerned”). The next step, then, is to try to unblend from the concerned part.
While the key to convincing the target part to unblend is to emphasize that it will get attention better by separating than by blending, the key to convincing concerned parts to unblend (when the target part is a protector) is to emphasize that paying attention to the target part does not mean letting it run your life. I often say that we’re just going to get to know it, not make any life decisions.
It often sounds something like this:
“Would you be okay with stepping back to let me talk to this part for a little bit?”
When we unblend from a target part, we definitely want it to stick around. But when we unblend from a concerned part, it’s up to the concerned part whether it stays in consciousness or not. You can offer to a scared or embarrassed part that it doesn’t have to stay here and watch this; it can go to a safe, comfortable place in your imagination. (Pro tip: do this during scary movies!) But a skeptical or analytical part might prefer to sit on the sidelines and watch your conversation with the target part, and that’s totally fine.
If the concerned part agrees, you’ll feel a shift, and you can restart the cycle with the magic question again: how do I feel towards the target part? It’s totally normal to have to do this a few times with different concerned parts before landing in category 1.
If the concerned part does not agree to unblend, you’ll keep feeling whatever it’s bringing to the table. Sometimes, it will agree and relax, and then come right back. This isn’t a failure! The concerned part is just letting you know it needs your attention. Make it your new target part, and take it from the top with the magic question.
If you can’t unblend
Unblending can be hard! This is one of the reasons why it’s helpful to do parts work with a therapist or coach. We can help by:
- bringing our own Self-energy to the process, which tends to help parts relax
- seeing your parts more clearly than you because we’re not clouded by their emotions
- noticing subtle signs of parts based on wider experience
- learning or developing additional techniques for unblending
Don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t do it alone. But even attempting this process can be beneficial, since it brings your awareness to your parts and to the fact that there’s a deeper You in there. This is basically mindfulness practice.
Make sure you’re subscribed to blog updates so you’ll get the next post on the process, covering how to get to know a protective part!