IFS for the Highly Sensitive Person 

Written by Rachel H.

January 22, 2024

Do you ever get the sense that there’s more than one version of you?

Maybe you notice the part of you that pushes you out of your comfort zone. “You have to say “yes” to the networking meeting,” this one says – “who knows who you might meet? This could impact the entire trajectory of your career!”

“But I’m tired,” another part interrupts. “Aren’t we supposed to be trying to do less?” This one loves quiet time and solitude; thinks the other one maybe needs to just take a chill pill. There’s an almost-constant tug between these two-  the adventurous seeker and the quiet dreamer.

But wait, there’s more!

“Why does everything always have to feel so hard for you? Why can’t you just make up your mind?” This one’s voice is tinged with criticism and contempt.

Usually a good mind-numbing TV show quiets it down, so you flip on the latest season of Love is Blind and check out for three hours longer than you intended. 

Then a thought –  “you said you’d be in bed by 10 tonight,” pops into your awareness. That familiar sinking feeling of disappointment that you didn’t do the thing you said you’d do.

This schedule-keeper compels you to flip off Netflix and go to bed, but your mind is still racing with all of the “what if’s” and to-do’s of tomorrow. Oh hi there, worried one.

Welcome to your inner system, the unique landscape of you!

In IFS, or Internal Family Systems, it’s not a matter of if we have parts – or, in other words, different aspects of our personality that have specific roles and duties in our lives – it’s a matter of who those parts are and what they’re trying to do for us. 

For the highly sensitive person, IFS offers a compassionate, non-shaming and radically open framework for better understanding and working with what can often feel like challenges in our lives, like: 

  • a sense of being different or not good enough 
  • feeling like we need to push down our sensitive nature
  • struggling to set boundaries with our loved ones. 

OK, so what is this IFS thing all about?

We all have Parts

And they tend to fall into one of three categories:

Our “managers” are the parts that are trying to be proactive in keeping us safe and functioning in the world. Some examples of managers in the highly sensitive system might be:

  • a part that is hypervigilant to the needs of others, always trying to anticipate what will best keep the peace
  • An over-thinking part who believes that all emotions need a logical explanation
  • A part that edits and then edits again (and maybe checks just one more time) before hitting “send”

We also have “firefighters.” These are the action heroes of our system, the ones that step in when they sense danger. They might look like:

  • a part that pours a glass of wine to “take the edge off”
  • a part that uses doom-scrolling as a strategy for quieting the voice of the inner critic
  • a part that dreams of running away from your current life without any plan whatsoever

Then there’s our “exiles.” These are the most tender parts of our inner system that hold the felt experience of our pain. We know we’re in exile territory when we experience feelings such as

  • extreme shame
  • a sense of being “small,” or much younger than your actual age
  • existential loneliness

So how are they all connected?

Our managers and firefighters are oriented around keeping our exiles safe and out of sight. They may have taken on extreme behaviors and beliefs (called burdens) in order to help us survive extremely painful and confusing life experiences. Our managers are proactive in how they go about trying to help while our firefighters are reactive. 

We all have a core Self

Within each of us exists an unshakeable and indestructible center, or core, that has infinite capacity for holding the complexities of our entire life experience. Some people think of this as a feeling of coming home to oneself, the spaciousness of experiencing even a short break in the regular programming of monkey-mind-chatter. 

Self, or Self-energy as it’s often referred to in the world of IFS, is not something that needs to be cultivated. Just like the sun, it’s always there even if we can’t see it or feel it. What we can cultivate is kinder conditions in our inner world to allow it to come through.

We know we are experiencing Self energy when we feel things like:

  • Calm
  • Compassion
  • Courage
  • Clarity
  • Creativity
  • Connection
  • Presence
  • Patience
  • Playfulness

Our parts just want the best for us (even if they have a strange way of showing it)

IFS proposes that all of our parts have a positive intention. Yes, even the ones calling us names in our heads we’d never dare utter out loud. 

These positive intentions might not always be clear right away. The magic happens when we can bring that Self energy to all our parts to begin to better understand why they believe they must keep doing what they’re doing. 

When we can begin to soften to the sharp edges and tender pain points within us, those parts also tend to soften and eventually transform into some of our most trusted allies.

Greater harmony and healing is possible

Healing comes when we access and extend Self energy toward the parts of us who are struggling and in pain.

If you’re highly sensitive, some of that pain may be connected to how the outside world responds to your sensitive and easily-overstimulated nature. Perhaps you were told “you’re too sensitive” throughout your childhood and even into your present day. Or you’ve always had a sense of something being wrong with you.

In IFS Therapy for Highly Sensitive People, you will be guided to not just come to better know and understand your inner landscape, but to offer healing energy to the parts of you that most need it. Once our parts have felt fully seen and witnessed, they are often ready to release the weight of the burdens they’ve been carrying for so long.

Curious to know more about how IFS Therapy works and if it might be a good fit for you? Reach out to schedule a free consultation with Rachel today.

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