Overcoming Anxiety with IFS Therapy


Have you ever noticed how you react differently to situations than someone else? That’s because we all have unique internal systems that shape our experiences. Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy helps us understand these internal reactions and how they interact with the world. Let’s explore how IFS can help manage anxiety by examining our “Inner System” and “External System.”

The Inner and External Systems

Imagine visiting a friend who offers you a glass of milk. That’s the “External System.” Your reaction to that glass of milk—whether it brings comfort or anxiety—comes from your “Inner System.” One person might feel joy because it reminds them of childhood, while another might feel anxious due to negative past experiences or dietary changes they haven’t shared with their friend yet.

Making Sense of the Anxious Inner System

Anxiety can be a tangled web of unconscious fears and reactions. You might experience sudden anxiety attacks or constant low-level worry without knowing why. This happens because these fears and anxieties aren’t always clear or connected to current events.

To untangle this web, we need to:

  1. Understand the Anxious Inner System: This is where IFS therapy shines. It helps identify the parts of your psyche that are driven by fear and anxiety.
  2. Interact with the External System: By understanding your internal reactions, you can better navigate external situations.

Using IFS to Explore Anxiety

IFS therapy starts by focusing on the most accessible anxiety you’re feeling. It’s often helpful to have a trained therapist guide you through this process, especially at the beginning. But you can start exploring your inner system independently with a simple exercise.

A Simple IFS Exercise: Observing Without Judgment

Try this exercise when you have some quiet time:

  1. Find a Quiet Space: Turn off distractions like your phone and take a break from tasks.
  2. Set Your Intention: Decide to observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them.
  3. Become an Observer: Notice what’s happening inside you. Don’t try to change anything; just be curious.

You’ll quickly find that staying non-judgmental is tough. We’re used to judging our thoughts and feelings. When you catch yourself judging, gently bring yourself back to observing. This practice helps you recognize the parts of you that judge and monitor your inner world.

The Magic of Self-Observation

Amazing things happen when you look at yourself without wanting to fight or criticize your thoughts and feelings. IFS therapy online promotes peace, compassion, and calm within your inner system. Spontaneous change can occur with the right attitude, which IFS calls Self or Self-energy.

What Causes Anxiety?

Through IFS, clients often discover that their anxiety stems from:

●       Past Traumas: Current situations might remind you of past experiences that didn’t go well.

●       Value Conflicts: Certain aspects of life might not align with your core values.

●       Traumatized Parts: Some parts of you (called exiles) might carry heavy trauma, and anxiety serves to protect these parts from further harm.

Making Changes with IFS

Understanding your anxiety is one thing, but acting on this understanding is another challenge. Your anxious parts tell you not to drink that glass of milk because you’re on a new diet. What do you do? Do you honour this part’s concerns or drink the milk anyway?

IFS helps with peaceful decision-making. Some parts of your inner system aren’t on board if you struggle to act on your decisions. This can lead to procrastination or ambivalence. You can make more harmonious decisions by negotiating with all parts of yourself and aligning your actions with your inner values.

Embracing Inner Peace

We’re often not taught how to bring harmony to our inner parts. It might seem impossible to satisfy all parts of ourselves, but by listening carefully and kindly to each part, a path forward always exists. This path might not always be what we initially wish for, but it leads to genuine inner peace and healing.

If this resonates with you, consider contacting an IFS therapist to guide you on this journey. Remember, understanding and compassion towards yourself are the first steps to overcoming anxiety and finding inner peace.