Psychology tells you who lives in your mind or who controls you.

As if there is a group of people inside us dictating choices while at the same time doing the opposite. This without finding a clear explanation

"One part of me wants to stay, but another wants to disappear."

A group of people inside us dictating choices

"One part tells me to stop doing these things, and another part likes to do them." We experience this struggle daily, as if there is a group of people inside us dictating choices while at the same time doing the opposite. This without finding a clear explanation for what is going on in our mind. 


The film "Inside Out" tells the story of a girl named "Riley", who moves with her family from Minnesota to live in San Francisco. Riley has had a painful experience. She fails to adjust to her new environment and feels lonely and nostalgic about her previous life. Meanwhile, the film reveals the internal conflict Riley experiences between herself and a group of characters inside her mind. Each character represents a certain emotion: "anger, sadness, joy, disgust, and fear". Events then intertwine between Riley's feelings and their reflections inside and outside her head. The film highlights the relationship between the inner characters of the mind, and how the incompatibility between them affects Riley's decisions.

After an arduous journey into Riley's mind, we discover how the different feelings interact, and how they take turns managing the girl's life. The journey ends with a realignment of roles, and Riley is able to return to normal. In the end, we discover that Riley's real suffering ended when she was able to communicate well with herself.

The key is self-communication.

The film "Inside Out" highlights the idea of each individual's inner personal communication, how they relate to themselves, and how they interact. This communication allows him to feel different feelings, interact with his thoughts, and form his personality. The personality that begins to announce itself through "human behaviour" is what helps us understand ourselves and others.

Dr. Richard Schwartz, physician, family therapist, and founder of the "Internal Family Systems" institute, tried to explain the mechanism of the mind's work in man's communication with himself. He established a model called the "Internal Family Systems Model", according to which the mind consists of a group of relatively distinct sub-personalities. Internal Family Systems is a psychological approach that helps to understand the mechanism by which these sub-personalities control the human mind and behaviour.

Internal Family Systems... Strangers in your mind

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a psychotherapeutic system created by family therapist Dr. Richard Schwartz. According to the medical website "Fairy Well Mind", Internal Family Systems indicate that the mental systems of humans are made up of a group of sub-personalities. They represent different memories and emotions, as well as early childhood traumas, and are similar to the family system.

These personalities interact in many different and changing ways depending on the different events, experiences, and life stories a person goes through in order to preserve the "self". In this self, which represents the centre of human consciousness. The different personalities fall into two main categories: one that represents the painful emotions and thoughts (the "weak part"), and another that strives to protect and survive the vulnerable parts (the "protective parts").

The problem arises when the desires of these personalities conflict with each other and with oneself. This happens after having lived through certain experiences and situations, which leads to a defect in the internal system. Going back to the film "Inside Out", the different experiences and situations we go through, which form our internal ability to cope with reality flexibly in times of crisis, appear as islands in Riley's mind. Each island represents a human experience that has shaped Riley's consciousness and influenced the way he sees the world. This is exactly like "internal family systems". In effect, this system indicates that the essence of the personality is based on the human experiences it goes through.

These are the ones who control you: the managers, the exiles, and the firemen!

In the "internal family systems" model, Schwartz seeks to understand the internal personalities of the mind and how they interact. This task was preceded by Sigmund Freud in his famous theory of "psychoanalysis". This theory emphasises that the human psyche consists of three elements, which are "the id, the ego, and the superego", which interact with each other and shape human behaviour.

Schwartz postulates that each inner personality has its own characteristics and perceptions that each play an important role in self-preservation. Schwartz divided the sub-personalities in the "inner family systems" model into:

1: Managers are the guardians of human consciousness.

Also called "protectors" or "caretakers", these are the sub-personalities responsible for maintaining a functional level of consciousness. This is done by protecting us from any bad experiences or harmful feelings such as rejection, hurt, bullying, and failure.

2: The exiles ... our negative feelings hidden under the rubble.

The exiles represent the wounded parts of ourselves from traumatic experiences that we have faced, alone, without support or assistance. These personalities remain under the control of the managers, separated from the rest of the "internal family systems" model in the unconscious, until the integrity of the self is maintained. But, it appears from time to time in the form of pain, shame, fear, and loneliness.

3: The firemen... the bulwark against the "exiles".

They are the bulwarks against painful or "exiled" experiences that come out of the unconscious into the conscious so that we remember them and feel bad. Here, the firemen distract the mind to protect the consciousness from them, and from our evocation of this traumatic experience. This causes us to engage in certain impulsive behaviours such as sex, work addiction, food addiction, drugs, or even self-harm.

Psychological dysfunction usually occurs when the roles of the three characters overlap. Where each of them seeks to impose their control over the other. This is evident in the movie "Inside Out," when "Joy" tries to control the rest of Riley's feelings and keep them in check, resulting in disastrous consequences.

But... how does the "internal family systems" model help us understand the self?

The main purpose of using internal family systems as a therapeutic approach is to create harmony between the different parts of the mind ("managers", exiles," and "firemen") in order to protect the self (consciousness), which is the essence of each person. Richard Schwartz explains in a study he conducted in collaboration with other researchers, entitled "Using the Multiple Family Systems Model to Treat PTSD in Survivors of Multiple Childhood Trauma: A Pilot Study"; The mechanism of the internal family systems programme works in several ways, including the following:

  • 1- Self-understanding... Let each person in you play their part.
  • 2- Self-compassion... Never blame yourself.
  • 3- Increase inner awareness... Be in touch with yourself.
  •  4- Reconcile with the scars of the past... let that pain pass. 

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