Positive Intent

All Parts Are Welcome

Experience with IFS shows that every part has a positive intent for you. It may want to protect you from harm or help you feel good about yourself. It may want to keep you from feeling pain or make other people like you. Every part of you is trying to help you feel good and avoid pain. This is how we are constructed biologically, and our psyches work the same way. Since some parts keep us stuck in negative patterns and have a destructive impact on our lives, it may be hard to imagine how they could be trying to help. The answer is that despite their best intentions, these parts don’t always act wisely; they take extreme stances or behave in clumsy and primitive ways. However, if you look under the surface, you discover that they are always doing what they think is best for you. They may have a distorted perception of situations and an exaggerated sense of danger, but their intent is always positive.

For example, Joe has a part that makes him close his heart and lose interest in women whenever a relationship turns intimate and moves toward commitment. At first, he didn’t approve of this Closed-Hearted Part of himself and wanted to get rid of it because it was preventing him from finding love. However, when he looked deeper through IFS therapy, Joe found that this part was trying to look out for him. It was terrified that he would be taken over by a woman and lose himself, which is exactly what happened with his mother. When he was a child, being close to a female meant being controlled by her. So this part protected him in the only way it knew how, by withdrawing. It said, “I just want to keep you safe. I don’t want this to happen to you again.” Joe’s Closed-Hearted Part shut him down because it saw danger that wasn’t there. It distorted the present based on the past.

Even if a part sees the present accurately, it may have a faulty strategy for helping you. Many parts know only one way to act, which may be something that worked fairly well in your family forty years ago when you were a child. However, in today’s adult world, this strategy is ineffective, short-sighted, or immature. A protective part often has no finesse or flexibility. It only knows how to do one thing, regardless of the situation. Like the proverbial man with the hammer who sees everything as a nail, a part only knows how to pound on things.

Bill has a part that is judgmental and competitive with other people in a way that is not consistent with his true values. He always felt that this part was reprehensible and ought to be locked away. However, once he got to know it, he discovered that it was actually trying to do its best for him.

It wanted to protect him from feeling worthless and help him feel valuable and important instead. The part tried to achieve this in the only way it knew—by feeling superior to others. It didn’t realize that there could be other ways for Bill to feel valuable—by connecting with others, by valuing himself, by doing meaningful things in the world. It knew only one strategy—judging others as inferior.

We are often afraid to get to know our parts or embrace them because we fear that this will give them power to sabotage our lives. What if they take over and cause even more problems? Joe was afraid that if he got to know his Closed-Hearted Part, it would take over and he would have no chance of loving a woman. However, with IFS he got to know this part and understand its positive intent without letting it take over. In fact, embracing a part is a step toward healing it.

This approach is fundamentally different from the way we ordinarily relate to our parts. Usually when we become aware of a part (or a feeling or behavior pattern), the first thing we do is evaluate it. Is it good or bad for us? If we decide it is good, we embrace it and act from it. If we decide it is bad, we try to get rid of it. We tell it to go away or attempt to bury it. However, this approach doesn’t work. You can’t get rid of a part of your psyche. You can only push it into the unconscious, where it will continue to affect you without your awareness.

In IFS, we do something altogether different and radical. We welcome all our parts with curiosity and compassion. We seek to understand each one and appreciate its efforts to help us, without losing sight of the ways it is causing problems. We develop a relationship of caring and trust with each part, and then take steps to heal it so it can function in a healthy way.

We can relate to our parts in this way because we all have a true Self that is open, curious, and compassionate. The entire IFS approach is based on working with your parts from this place. When we approach our parts with curiosity and the desire to know who they truly are, they reveal themselves to us.

When we relate to our parts with compassion, they trust that we care about them, and they open up even their deepest places of pain and shame for healing. However, you may not trust that you can do this. You may ask, “What if I don’t feel curiosity and compassion toward my parts?” And frequently we don’t at first. However, IFS has innovative methods for accessing Self, with its qualities of curiosity and compassion, and returning to it when we become sidetracked.


Earley, J. (2009). Self-Therapy: A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating Inner Wholeness Using IFS, a New, Cutting-Edge Therapy. Hillcrest Publishing Group.