How It Feels to Be the Subject of an IFS process

Will and I recently hosted a webinar about IFS, and when I was reading the feedback forms, I noticed that two people asked very similar questions about how it felt to be the subject of an IFS process. I wanted to give my best attempt at a description, though I imagine it’s somewhat different for everyone.

During an IFS process, I go into a trance-like state. I’ve had some hypnosis work done on me, and it’s a little like that. Also similar to how I feel during guided visualizations I’ve done. If you know what it means to be “in your head“, that’s not the state you’re going for. It shouldn’t feel very much like you’re in the driver’s seat at all. More like you’re witnessing your thoughts, emotions, and visualizations unfolding.

Sometimes, I’m aware of vivid visual imagery. That being said, my imagery isn’t all that vivid compared to what Will experiences. I’m usually pretty aware of what’s going on physically in my body. It feels sort of floaty. Answers to the questions the facilitator poses come quickly, or I don’t trust them. If I pay attention, I can feel my head wanting to nod or shake before all of my mind has even processed the question.

It occurs to me to describe the state as feeling spacious. I think what I mean by that is that, since I’m not identifying with much, my thoughts are flowing more and I’m not self-censoring them.

There are moments when I can tell a process is going somewhere interesting. One of the most important signs is when I get an answer from myself that seems surprising. Or when I get a thought that causes a strong pulse of emotion. Recalling memories I haven’t thought of in ages that don’t seem obviously related is a very good sign too.

There are also a few protectors that make regular appearances in me when I’m the subject of IFS.

  • Anger: I’ll get frustrated that the person trying to help me doesn’t actually understand me. When the facilitator tries to paraphrase what I’ve said, it won’t sound quite right and I’ll complain about it. This part judges other people for not being able to read my mind effectively.
  • Confusion: I’ll find myself wanting to answer “I don’t know”, which can slow things down quite a bit if I don’t identify it as a part.
  • Skepticism: Am I doing it right? Am I just making this up? Does this even work at all? I’ve experienced powerful work on both ends, but these questions still come up for me, even now.
  • Analysis: As I mentioned above, being in an analytical frame of mind isn’t appropriate for doing IFS work, but it’s always a strong attractor for me anyway.
  • Silence: I’ll have a strong impulse to shut down and not say anything. This can happen for a bunch of reasons, though it’s not as strong in me as it used to be.

Other people I’ve worked with have a different set of usual objections. Going deep is vulnerable, and there are many reasons someone wouldn’t want to do it. Some people, for example, are reluctant to cry in front of others. If you are afraid to cry, your brain may be looking ahead ten steps and preventing from letting you talk about something that even might lead in that direction.

  • This is helpful. I’ve done IFS several times, but it hadn’t occurred to me to regard skepticism and negativity against the process itself as parts. Thank you!