“Self-Therapy” by Jay Earley, published in 2012, is a transformative guide that introduces the concept of Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy. The book provides concrete tools for individuals to conduct self-therapy and understand their psyche better.

Its key assumption is that our mind is divided into multiple ‘parts’, each with its own perspective, feelings, memories, and goals. These parts can be exiles (carrying pain from the past), protectors (controlling and protective), or firefighters (impulsive, dealing with emergencies). The book guides readers on how to access the Self, a spiritual centre of compassion, wisdom and curiosity, to heal these parts.


Key points

(Earley, 2012, p. 11):

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.

(Earley, 2012, p. 20):

the most important relationship is between those parts that protect us from pain and those child parts that are in pain

(Earley, 2012, p. 25):

Exiles are young child parts that are in pain from the past. While protectors try to keep us from feeling pain, exiles are the parts in pain.

(Earley, 2012, p. 29):

We all have a core part of us that is our true self, our spiritual center. When our extreme parts are not activated and in the way, this is who we are. The Self is relaxed, open, and accepting of yourself and others.

(Earley, 2012, p. 29):

Much can be said about the Self, but for our purposes, the most important thing is that it is the agent of psychological healing in IFS. It is, by nature, compassionate and curious about our parts

(Earley, 2012, p. 33):

You begin a session by choosing a part to focus on, usually a protector.

(Earley, 2012, p. 57): “This can’t be determined intellectually.”

(Earley, 2012, p. 75):

that is who you take yourself to be in that moment. We don’t usually notice these shifts in identity; we think we are always the same unitary personality

(Earley, 2012, p. 77):

Self is open, curious, and compassionate toward each part as well as toward other people. It is never judgmental and never wants to abolish a part

(Earley, 2012, p. 77):

This example shows the two most common ways we relate to our difficult parts—either we are blended with them or we judge them.

(Earley, 2012, p. 98):

Keep in mind that you are asking the concerned part to step aside, not pushing it aside or making it step aside.

(Earley, 2012, p. 99):

IFS is a cooperative venture. We never make parts do anything.

(Earley, 2012, p. 112):

No matter how much pain or dysfunction you have to deal with in your life, every part of your psyche is doing its best to help you. This may sound strange.

(Earley, 2012, p. 114): “What do you feel?”

(Earley, 2012, p. 115): “What are you concerned about?”

(Earley, 2012, p. 115): “What is your role? What do you do to perform this role?”

(Earley, 2012, p. 115): “What do you hope to accomplish by playing this role?”

(Earley, 2012, p. 115): “What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t do this?”

(Earley, 2012, p. 119):

The most potent question is: “What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t perform your role?”

(Earley, 2012, p. 120):

The key question is: What is it afraid would happen? Suppose you ask the enraged part what it is afraid would happen if it didn’t become enraged when you are given orders. It might say, “I’m afraid that you will be controlled by other people and become just a puppet on a string.

(Earley, 2012, p. 138): “All it knows is the danger it sees.”

(Earley, 2012, p. 161):

Keep in mind that it really isn’t possible to do the IFS process badly.

(Earley, 2012, p. 164):

This is never true; it is just a belief held by one of your parts.

(Earley, 2012, p. 178):

  1. Getting to know a protector P1: Accessing a part P2: Unblending from the target part P3: Unblending from a concerned part P4: Discovering a protector’s positive intent P5: Developing a trusting relationship with a protector 2. Getting permission to work with an exile 3. Getting to know an exile E1: Accessing an exile E2: Unblending from an exile E3: Unblending from a concerned part E4: Learning about an exile E5: Developing a trusting relationship with an exile 4. Accessing and witnessing childhood memories 5. Reparenting an exile 6. Retrieving an exile 7. Unburdening an exile 8. Transforming a protector

(Earley, 2012, p. 179):

A central principle in IFS is: We don’t work with an exile until we have permission from any protectors that might object.

(Earley, 2012, p. 198):

To summarize: In most situations that trigger us, at least two parts are involved. The exile is usually triggered first and then the protector, which pops up to guard it.


(Earley, 2012, p. 2):

In fact, if we get into battles with our parts, they will fight back, and if we try to disown them, they will feel even more lonely and worthless than they already do. However, if we treat them like little beings inside of us who have our best interests at heart, we become open to a brand new way of relating to our feelings.

(Earley, 2012, p. 4):

Actually, the Busy Part has such power because it is unconscious.

(Earley, 2012, p. 4):

A hidden part has extra influence because it can’t be addressed. It is like someone speaking ill of you behind your back. Rumors begin to fly, but you don’t have any idea where they came from, so you can’t confront the source.

(Earley, 2012, p. 5):

The Busy Part is not really Sandy’s enemy at all. It is just trying to protect the Embarrassed Child; it is afraid she will be ridiculed again if Sandy tackles this video project

(Earley, 2012, p. 7):

Unlike many forms of therapy, IFS doesn’t pathologize people. When we have problems in life, IFS doesn’t see us as having a disease or deficit. It recognizes that we have the resources within us to solve our problems, though these resources may be blocked because of unconscious reactions to events in the past

(Earley, 2012, p. 10):

Any feeling reaction, thought sequence, behavior pattern, or body sensation can indicate the presence of a part. Some of our parts are in pain, and others want to protect us from feeling that pain

(Earley, 2012, p. 19):

Parts, or subpersonalities, may operate in similar ways, but they are alive and personal

(Earley, 2012, p. 20):

Understanding the psyche in this way gives you a great deal of power to change your inner world for the better. Since parts are like little people inside you, you can make contact with them, get to know them, negotiate with them, encourage them to trust you, help them communicate with each other, and give them what they need to heal

(Earley, 2012, p. 21):

Many extreme parts protect you even when it isn’t necessary, thereby causing you to act in abrasive ways that offend people or distance you from them.

(Earley, 2012, p. 22): “There are two kinds of extreme parts—protectors and exiles”

(Earley, 2012, p. 22):

There is a residual fear of events from long ago that involve abandonment, betrayal, judgment, or abuse. Protectors don’t realize that you aren’t a child anymore. They don’t realize that you have many more strengths and resources now, and you usually aren’t in danger as you were in the past.

(Earley, 2012, p. 23):

Darlene has a protector that religiously looks after the needs of other people at the expense of her own. It believes that the most important thing in life is making sure that other people are comfortable and feel good about

(Earley, 2012, p. 24):

The problem is that she neglects herself. As a child, Darlene didn’t get the love and nurturing she needed from her mother because her mother was often upset and depressed. As a result, Darlene felt empty and needy. However, she put aside her feelings and did her best to make her mother feel better. Darlene had a good heart and couldn’t bear to see her mother suffer, so she worked tirelessly to nurture her and take care of her. She reversed roles with her; she became the caretaker and her mother the child. But little girls need a mother. Who was there to take care of Darlene?

(Earley, 2012, p. 25):

Exiles aren’t always stuck at a single place. There can be a series of childhood incidents, even a situation that went on for a number of years or all through your childhood.

(Earley, 2012, p. 26):

In addition to painful emotions, exiles have negative beliefs about you and about the world.

(Earley, 2012, p. 26): “These are global viewpoints that cannot be pierced by logic”

(Earley, 2012, p. 29):

When you are in Self, you are grounded, centered, and non-reactive.

(Earley, 2012, p. 31):

Parts provide a lot. They offer you the capacities and insights you need in any particular situation—spontaneity, humor, organization, perseverance, for example. But on their own, they lack a larger sense of direction.

(Earley, 2012, p. 34):

As a result of childhood incidents, our exiles take on pain and negative beliefs, which, in IFS, are called burdens. Little Billy had taken on the burdens of worthlessness and fear. Burdens are not intrinsic to the part; they “land on” the part as a result of what happened in the past.

(Earley, 2012, p. 53):

there are limits to what you can discover by distant observation and intellectual guesswork. Yet this is the way we typically try to understand our psychological life.

(Earley, 2012, p. 56):

she was considering talking to him about this but kept hesitating. In order to explore this, I asked her to imagine bringing it up with him.

(Earley, 2012, p. 75):

We are conscious of whichever part is illuminated by this flashlight, but it rarely gets pointed back toward the one who holds it. So we tend not to be aware of the witness. The witness sees but is not seen.

(Earley, 2012, p. 75):

At any given moment, you are identified with the occupant of the seat of consciousness. If the Self is in the seat, you are identified with Self. If a part has taken over the seat, you are identified with that part

(Earley, 2012, p. 81):

You don’t need to be one-hundred percent in Self to work successfully with a part; you need to have a critical mass of Self available

(Earley, 2012, p. 83):

The only strategy they know for being seen and heard is to blend with us. Explain to the part that you want to get to know it. In fact, that is why you want some separation—so you can relate to it.

(Earley, 2012, p. 83):

you just want the separation for a few minutes during this session, and reassure it that you won’t do anything

(Earley, 2012, p. 85):

Sit quietly with your spine relaxed but straight. Close your eyes and focus your attention on the sensations in your body. You might notice tension in your shoulder or pressure behind your closed eyes. There might be a sensation of warmth in your chest or fullness in your belly. Take your time and notice whatever body sensations come to your attention. These will probably change from moment to moment. As you notice each sensation, take some time to feel it and be present with it in that moment. If you notice your attention wandering away from your body, gently bring it back, without judgment. Don’t worry at all if this happens more than once. Without judgment, bring your attention back to your body each time. After a while, allow your attention to move down into your belly. Be aware of the sensations in your belly. Or even just sense the physical presence of your belly. Relax into this. Allow this to calm you and center you. Be with your belly for a while in a soft, open way. Allow your sense of yourself to deepen. As time passes, become aware of the sensations in your chest, in your heart. Allow your heart to soften a little, to open as much as seems right at this time. Let your heart be open to all your parts, feeling compassion for them and their struggles and pain. Welcome each of your parts and extend a tendril of connection to them from your heart.

(Earley, 2012, p. 89): “You start speaking as the part rather than reporting,”

(Earley, 2012, p. 89):

You start telling a detailed story about a person or event from the part’s perspective.

(Earley, 2012, p. 92):

What attitude would you need in a person you were going to confide in?

(Earley, 2012, p. 96):

Parts are intrinsically either protectors or exiles, depending on whether they are in pain or protecting against pain.

(Earley, 2012, p. 97):

Access the concerned part, and ask what its worries are. Listen respectfully to what it has to say.

(Earley, 2012, p. 110):

P1. Accessing a Part

(Earley, 2012, p. 110):

P2. Unblending Target Part

(Earley, 2012, p. 110):

P3. Unblending Concerned Part

(Earley, 2012, p. 110):

P4. Discovering a Protector’s Role

(Earley, 2012, p. 110):

P5. Developing a Trusting Relationship with a Protector

(Earley, 2012, p. 113):

Full transformation requires direct experience of a part and a trusting relationship with it, something we will see clearly as the book unfolds.

(Earley, 2012, p. 118): “Don’t push for clarity prematurely”

(Earley, 2012, p. 119):

Instead of imposing a name on a part, let it name itself.

(Earley, 2012, p. 119):

It is best to get to know a part as it understands itself because your view of it may be biased by your judgment of it, and therefore you won’t learn what the part is trying to do for you. You goal is to understand the part from its perspective.

(Earley, 2012, p. 120):

Don’t ask what the part thinks would happen if it didn’t do its role. Don’t ask what would happen. Either question is likely to prompt an intellectual answer about consequences, not about the part’s motivation.

(Earley, 2012, p. 121):

Protectors of the first type care about the exile and want the best for it, so they try to protect it from the world. Protectors of the second type think that the exile is dangerous because it might flood you with pain, so they judge it and push it away.

(Earley, 2012, p. 121):

However, once you get to know any protector, no matter how destructive it is, you discover that it isn’t your enemy after all.

(Earley, 2012, p. 127):

Thank the target part for making itself known to you. If the work was only partly finished, let it know that you will come back to work with it more. This will reassure the part that you won’t forget about it.

(Earley, 2012, p. 134):

The Conflict Avoider is operating in the dark without any awareness of Jim’s maturity and current capacities. If it could learn to trust Jim’s Self to negotiate an argument with his girlfriend without getting overly emotional, it could relax.

(Earley, 2012, p. 137):

However, one day I realized that I hadn’t really formed a cooperative, trusting relationship with this part. I had just been trying to sidestep it.

(Earley, 2012, p. 138):

You can say any of the following statements to it, if they truly reflect how you feel. I understand why you perform your role. I understand why you think that is important. It makes sense to me. I know how hard you have had to work. I understand the responsibility you carry. I understand what you have sacrificed. I appreciate your efforts on my behalf. I appreciate what you did for me when I was a child. I appreciate what you have been trying to do for me throughout my life. I appreciate what you are trying to do for me. I appreciate what you do for me. I see how you contribute to my life.

(Earley, 2012, p. 139):

By engaging with them the way we do in IFS, we are helping them broaden their horizons and increase their awareness. This is helpful in itself.

(Earley, 2012, p. 139):

(a) If you have an image of the part, see if it is looking at you and responding to your presence. If it isn’t, ask it to look at you. (b) If you know the part by feeling its emotions or feeling it in your body, switch places and temporarily identify with it. Up till now, you have been identifying with Self (because it is your natural identity), but now choose, consciously, to identify with the part—to become the part. Feel the part emotionally or in your body, and then enter that feeling deliberately. If you’ve been feeling the part as a sadness in your belly, enter that sadness. From that place, look back to sense the presence of the Self. (c) If you communicate with the part through internal dialogue, ask the part if it is aware of you. If it says it isn’t, ask it to notice you.

(Earley, 2012, p. 148):

Just offer it your attention without hoping for anything in return. Don’t be in a hurry to get on with the process. Suppose you came upon a wild animal, such as a deer, that was wary of humans, and you wanted it to trust you enough to allow you to approach. What would you do? You would just sit quietly with it until it got used to your presence

(Earley, 2012, p. 164):

Many people who run into difficulties in their IFS process worry that they are inadequate IFS practitioners. They become concerned that they can’t stay in Self, or that they have too many conflicting parts, or that they can’t keep track of what is happening. They become afraid that they are so inherently flawed that they can’t be healed.

(Earley, 2012, p. 166):

Ask it to apply its skepticism after the session. Skepticism can be very useful if it is applied at the right time. At the wrong time, it will derail the process.

(Earley, 2012, p. 167):

It is important to have the protector’s permission before exploring the exile, so if an exile pops up, ask it to wait until you have finished with the protector.

(Earley, 2012, p. 169):

If you can’t make contact with this protector or you have a difficult time working with it, it might not be a good idea to continue trying to do exile work on your own. These extreme protectors are probably coming up because there is intense exile pain or trauma underneath.

(Earley, 2012, p. 180):

Sometimes one protector looks out for several exiles, or several protectors all guard a single exile.

(Earley, 2012, p. 181):

if you do manage to break through this protector, you may accomplish a dramatic, cathartic healing, but the contracted protector is likely to reconstitute itself soon afterward because you didn’t respect it and get its buy-in.

(Earley, 2012, p. 198):

However, the protector may pop up so quickly that we don’t notice the exile at all. In fact, that is usually the protector’s mission—to prevent us from feeling the pain of the exile

Go back to

(Earley, 2012, p. 24): “Exercise: Learning about Protectors”

(Earley, 2012, p. 28): “Exercise: Learning about Exiles”

(Earley, 2012, p. 90): “Exercise: Daily Parts Check-In”

(Earley, 2012, p. 110): “Help Sheet 1: Getting to Know a Protector”


(Earley, 2012, p. 54):

A trailhead is an experience or a difficulty in your life that will lead to interesting parts if you follow it.

(Earley, 2012, p. 186):

firefighters: They jump in impulsively to douse the fire of an exile’s pain when it is starting to come up. They have no concern for the possible destructive consequences of their actions. They just want to stop the pain at any cost. They are the last resort in trying to avoid or distract from pain.

Detailed comments

(Earley, 2012, p. 114): The lake metaphor works well! Here it is:

We don’t dive into the lake; we sit at the edge of the lake with our feet in the water, looking into its depths. We also don’t just spin intellectual ideas about the part, which would be like taking photographs of the lake from an airplane. Instead, we are right there and truly listening to what it has to tell us without falling into its deep waters and getting lost. We are learning about its feelings experientially, but from the vantage point of the Self.

Earley, J. (2012). Self-Therapy: A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating Wholeness and Healing Your Inner Child Using IFS, A New, Cutting-Edge Psychotherapy (2nd ed.). Pattern System Books.