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by Kayla Bell-Consolver, MS, LMHC

Mar 21, 2024

Conflicting Parts: Healing Black and LGBTQ+ Parts through Internal Family Systems Therapy

I was first introduced to internal family systems therapy (IFS) in the fall of 2020, and I have loved it ever sense.

Internal family systems therapy was developed by Richard Swartz and the model emphasis that healing occurs between a person’s inner self (i.e. light, wisdom, etc.) and the various parts of them. Parts can be broken into three different sections: Exiles, managers, and firefighters.

Exiles are often very young, wounded parts that hold the burdens attached to previous hurts, such as loneliness, shame, and rejection.

Managers do their absolute best to ensure someone never experiences their pain again through various protective behaviors, such as self-criticism, perfectionism, and control.

Lastly, firefighters attempt to protect the inner system when they feel wounds have become increasingly overwhelming, often when managers are not able to contain or prevent the hurt, through various responses, such as self-harming, substance use, and suicidal ideation.

Internal family systems resonated with me because it was non-pathologizing and viewed people as humans with various parts of them that make them who they are, and an inner Self that remains as a healing agent, despite external factors across the lifespan.

In the process of learning more about this approach, I also engaged in my own IFS therapy with a therapist to develop and deepen my understanding and relationship with my own parts. I learned that I have quite a few parts that hold burdens related to my sexual orientation and race, resulting in an inner conflict that felt unbearable. For example, feeling proud of my Blackness when existing in the Black community, and more protective of my Blackness when I leave these communities. The same process occurred for my Lesbian identity.

However, I wrestled with the fact that all my parts did not feel safe when I existed in separate Black and LGBTQ spaces. For instance, there were parts of me that were more protective of my Lesbian identity in predominantly Black spaces, and parts of me that were more protective of my Black identity in predominantly LGBTQ spaces. Ultimately, I recognized that the wound was loneliness, criticism, and alienation, due to past experiences of isolation within both communities.

As a therapist, I also recognized these parts when working with my BIPOC, LGBTQ+ clients. There was a similar experience of them feeling proud, yet ashamed or protective, of one or more parts of their identity. 

So, I asked myself…what do we do? Many can’t hide their race, sexual orientation, or gender identity, nor do they want to. This is where IFS and parts work is helpful, and I encourage therapists working with clients that have the intersectional identities of BIPOC and LGBTQ.

Healing through internal family systems encourages understanding, validation, and the befriending of parts that have had to engage in protection for survival and parts that have experienced the burdens of rejection and harm.

To begin connecting with the parts of you, I recommend that you become curious about their needs, intentions, and how they are trying to help you. Most importantly, remain open to understanding, rather than criticizing them.

If you are interested in learning more about my perspective of IFS and parts work, I invite you to follow my TikTok: @QuestionKayla

Mental Health, Intersectionality

by Kayla Bell-Consolver, MS, LMHC

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