Qualities of the Self

Qualities of the Self

satit wongsampan picture lotus
Lotus photo by Satit Wongsampan

Recently, I listened to a workshop discussing Internal Family Systems (IFS) and Polyvagal Theory.

IFS is a psychological model. “Internal Family” is a reference to our system of sub-personalities, what I call the roles we inhabit. (parent, child, worker, partner, friend, etc.) Underlying these “parts” is the true self.

These parts all have a positive intent, but stress can cause them to shift into a protective mode with counterproductive behaviours. Like to exile or orphan our painful parts (trauma).

This can help us feel comfortable but impedes processing our unfinished experiences. When those naturally rise to be seen, the protectors jump into action to suppress them again.

Further, the play of these roles masks the true self. So it’s key to connect with the true self so we can reassure the protectors that it’s safe to allow the exiled parts to arise.

I can see how the IFS model can aid in healing, and it has a healthy, non-pathologizing framework that addresses trauma. But they give parts too much identity. It implies multiple egos and personalities rather than simply roles we inhabit in different circumstances. While we may have a wounded child, for example, this is better seen as an aspect of ourselves than a separate entity*. True, there are laws of nature in play that can be personified, but it’s less useful to amplify that as it can encourage entanglement. Identity is the glue that sustains separation.

(I’m not suggesting we not embrace our inner child, just recognize it’s our younger state of being, not it’s own, separate self.)

Plus, some traumas are not personalities, just unresolved experiences. Similarly, our protective instincts don’t need to be seen as multiple, but can play out on multiple fronts.

Polyvagal Theory is a biological model of the nervous system’s stress response. This includes the activated states of Fight & Flight and the suppressed states of Freeze & Fawn, plus calm. This theory has developed from research on the Vagus nerve and its different pathways.

These 2 models are very compatible (we studied Polyvagal Theory in my classes too).

What I found interesting in IFS was the “Qualities of Self,” the “8 C’s and 5 P’s.” They are:

Compassion, Creativity, Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, Calm, Connectedness, Clarity,
Presence, Persistence, Perspective, Playfulness, Patience.

They use them as markers for anchoring in who we are, our true self. Calm, for example, we can use to ground in the body and, as noted, is a vagal nerve state. Presence isn’t the only way home.

In fact, these are also emergent qualities of ventral vagal activation. i.e.: a calm state of the nervous system.

The idea then becomes: change your state, not your thinking. Changing your state pulls everything else along. Stage would also be true here. 🙂

Of course, the self can have more qualities than these, but they’ll vary more based on our nature.

Note: *I am not a therapist nor psychologist. The above comments are my opinion, based on my experience with identity and awakening.

Last Updated on July 10, 2024 by Davidya

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  1. Michael

    Hi David!

    I agree with your assessment of IFS. Lots i see practicing it loose themselves in endless inner communication with parts and get stuck….not fully healing.

    However that knowledge itself is good….just recently i started talking with a few parts spontaneously and it worked wonders.

    They key to me is not personifying that which doesnt need to but if that happens smoothly and spontaneously it is of great value.


    1. Thanks, Michael. Great points.

      And I agree. Like having a relationship with my “inner child” was deeply nourishing. Being able to have a relationship helped soothe the old unmet needs. But I didn’t see my child-self as separate, just a stage of this life.

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