In IFS, a polarization is when two parts or groups of parts oppose or compete with each other to the point that the power struggle between them becomes so intense that the person feels stuck, at the mercy of these parts, and with access to Self energy constrained.  

Hands pulling a rope.

Both “sides” fear the other one taking over or winning and are committed to their own agenda for fear of what could happen if the other “wins”.⁠

You can picture this through the common analogy of a sailboat that seemingly doesn’t have a captain.  Each part or group of parts are on each side trying to keep the ship steady and upright, afraid of what will happen if they lean in or move inward (sometimes rightly so).  They just donʻt know or havenʻt met the captain (Self). 

Often, these underlying fears are related to:⁠

🌿The inherent need to provide balance within these power struggles⁠

🌿Their fervent effort to protect exiles at all costs, but just with different or opposing strategies⁠

🌿They are distracting from something else going on inside⁠

We can tell if we are stuck in a polarization when we or the person:⁠

🌿Intensely cycles between extreme behaviors (ie. the burden of shame or feeling unlovable triggers the cycle of restrictive eating to lose weight to feel better, which triggers parts who binge to counterbalance the impact of the restriction, which elicits more shame, and triggers the one who restricts, etc).⁠

🌿We feel stuck and unable to move forward – both as the practitioner and the client⁠

🌿We or the client feel ambivalent or paralyzed around the issue (a part wants to do x while another wants to do y).⁠

🌿There is interruption from other parts and strong dislike from these parts when you or the clientʻs Self energy is being with a part⁠

🌿We or the client strongly identifies with one part or parts and disowns or is unaware of parts with very different qualities⁠

Working with polarizations takes a lot of practice and skill, particularly because you are working with and befriending multiple parts at once. But once you are able to work this way with ease, we free up alot of stuckness in ourselves or those we are guiding.

Hereʻs how we do it:

🌿Recognize a polarization is happening:  When you are working with a target part, ask who the part might be reacting to inside and ask if they are in conflict with any other parts.

🌿Ask for whatever parts this one is polarized with to be here too with permission from the target part you started with and reassure they will both be heard/seen/felt here.

🌿Assess for Self energy here and see if you or who you are guiding is able to be with these parts.  Address any concerns that come from these parts about unblending enough to be with Self and to hear each other out.

🌿Get permission from these parts to let Self get to know them and facilitate listening to each other as well (if they are ready to).

🌿Facilitate Self listening/being with each part.  The other one might wait nearby and listen too.  Find out what they do, why they do it, what they are afraid would happen if they didnt work in this way,  and uncover their positive intention to help (because inherently that is what they are trying to do).  See if they can hear each otherʻs positive intentions.  We may start hearing indication of the parts inside they are protecting.

🌿Ask both parts if its working to struggle with each other like this.  What is the cost/impact/drain?  Would they like help to end the struggle? What are they afraid would happen if they didn’t keep up the struggle?  This is where we start to hear the parts inside they are concerned about as well.

🌿Get permission to go to the exiles theyʻre protecting.  Typically 1 or both parts are trying to protect more vulnerable parts (or parts they think are vulnerable) or are protecting the same part, just in different ways.  See if they will show you who they are concerned about and assure them that transformation, liberation, connection and safety for these parts are possible with Self.

🌿Get permission to go to the exiles theyʻre protecting.  Typically 1 or both parts are trying to protect more vulnerable parts (or parts they think are vulnerable) or are protecting the same part, just in different ways.  See if they will show you who they are concerned about and assure them that transformation, liberation, connection and safety for these parts are possible with Self.

🌿We have a choice point here of going to the exiles they are concerned about and beginning facilitation of the healing steps, or checking back with the polarized parts before starting that process and  negotiating new ways they can work together and get to know each other better before moving to the exiles they are concerns about.  

This can be a beautiful process of restoring balance and connection within and minimizing or eliminating stuckness and internal conflict in the most compassionate way possible.  

Let me know how this lands for you at alexis@manacounseling.com.

Anxiety Counseling and Trauma Therapy for Dads| Mana Counseling| Boulder, CO

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