What It Means to be “Unblended” in the IFS Model and How to Do It
Learning how to “unblend” from strong drives and emotions is an important life skill that can help you feel calmer and more centered in daily life. This blog post will teach you how to do it.
Internal Family Systems 101
In the Internal Family Systems model of psychology, the theory is that we have “parts” of our personality and a “core self.” The parts of our personality generally try their best to help us. Some are genuinely helpful, while others might cause unintended consequences.
For example, you may have a part that makes sure you are on time for things, a part that likes to be social, or a part that eats an entire container of ice cream when you feel sad to help you feel better. The core self, in contrast, is the inner healer or leader, and is curious about and compassionate towards parts. With time, the core self begins to lead the system, and parts step into rightful and valuable roles.
However, most people are in therapy precisely because some of their parts are not acting from their most valuable roles. When out of balance, parts do things like make you so socially anxious that you cannot leave the house, make you say things to your partner that you later regret, or make you work so hard that you’re burning out. It’s important to recognize that parts do these things to protect you. If parts are acting in a way that feels out-of-proportion to the situation, that means they are likely protecting a wound inside of you that has never been healed. Bringing up these parts and situations in therapy can help you heal them from the root.
Being Blended Vs. Being Unblended
When you are acting exclusively from one part of yourself, you are “blended” with that part. For example, when you are blended, you may think “I am angry!” When you are unblended, your core self is present. Even if that angry part is still there, there is a sense of spaciousness around it. You might instead say to yourself, “I am aware that a part of me is becoming angry. I can see that this anger is trying to tell me to stand up for myself right now.”
Unblending in Therapy Sessions
If you have had sessions with me, you have likely experienced what it’s like to unblend. When you and I are working with a part, I may ask you to bring that part into the present moment and see where you’re feeling or sensing it in your body. I may then ask, “do you feel like you’re in the part right now or you’re with it?” When I do this, I am sensing to see if you’re blended or not. If you’re blended, I may talk directly to the part. Alternatively, I may have you ask the part if it would be willing to make space for you to be there with it. When I do this, I am helping you to unblend. This helps you gain more core self-energy. You’ve likely noticed that this feels very different from being in the part!
One important thing to note is that being blended doesn't mean you are doing anything "wrong." Parts will blend with you if they feel strongly that they need to in order to protect you. If you ever find that a part doesn't want to unblend from you, you don't have to force it. Just let me know!
Unhelpful Attempts at Unblending
It is common and natural to want to escape, problem-solve, or distract from parts that are suffering. Here are some examples of ways people commonly try to unblend that are actually unhelpful in the long run.
They try to analyze, "figure out," or ruminate on their parts. For example, if they are feeling sad, they may try to "figure out why" they are sad, prove to themselves that they shouldn't be sad, or think about the sadness over and over. This perpetuates the feeling. In this case, a "thinking part" is trying to take over and make things better. This is not the same as core self being present with the part from a place of compassion.
They try to distract from the part. For example, if they are feeling sad, they might instead drink a bottle of wine, scroll on social media, or eat a bag of chips. In this case, a "distracter" part is taking over, which is not the same as core self being present with the sadness and allowing it space.
They try to force themselves to feel differently. For example, they feel sad, and try to "make" themselves be happy by putting on a smile or pretending. In this case, a manager part is taking over and is bypassing. This may help you cope in the moment (for example, when you're feeling anxious before a presentation but you put on a confident smile to get through it). However, it is not a long-term solution, and is not the same as core self. This can either make the feeling worse, or it just comes back later! If this is something that comes up frequently, it might be good to consider bringing this situation to therapy.
The criticize or judge their parts. When they realize they are blended with a part, they become critical of the part that has come up, trying to bully it into submission. This may or may not work in the short-term, but it certainly is not a long-term solution. What you resist will persist, and the criticism usually causes unnecessary suffering. Core self addresses parts from compassion. If you are being critical of yourself, you can be certain this is coming from one of your other parts.
In all of these examples, the initial part is not allowed space to be there and can get "stuck." Our protector parts then need to work harder to try to keep it at bay. Therefore, none of these options provide long-term solutions. Learn how to unblend instead below.
How to Unblend
IFS is more than a therapeutic method. It is also a life skill. Developing the capacity to “unblend” in daily life when you’re not in therapy is an important skill to learn. Clients of mine who bring IFS and unblending into their daily life tend to feel more conscious, whole, and integrated more quickly. Here are some ways to unblend.
Be present with your parts. If you notice yourself getting activated emotionally, stop for a moment. Take some deep breaths. Notice what is present for you. Ask any parts that are present if they would be willing to make some space for you to be there with them. Extend some loving and compassionate energy to the part(s), breathe into them, and ask what they are trying to tell you. Your parts may actually be telling you something important! Otherwise, if your parts are acting in a way that feels out-of-proportion to the situation, this will be a good thing to explore in therapy later.
Journal. Another way to unblend is to journal. Allow the part to write freely so it can express itself. If there are multiple parts involved, you can journal from each of them. If you are able to unblend when you finish, you can write back to your part(s) from core self. If this doesn't feel possible, you can perhaps walk away and write back later if you want (or just bring this situation to your therapy session).
Externalize the part. You could draw it, make a map of it, or even select an object that represents the part. Send all of the energy of the part into the object, map, or drawing. You could then dialogue with it if you’d like.
Breathe. If the part doesn’t want to unblend or if you feel very caught up in it, take a few minutes just to breathe. Focus only on your breath, and not the emotion. Take deep, calming breaths. The part will reap the benefits of the breathing and experience more calmness with you.
Intentionally focus on something else. If you’re unable to unblend any other way, engage with your other senses. Listen to music you like, go for a walk, make a cup of tea, or splash cold water on your face until the intensity subsides. This helps you take care of the part. Since you are being intentional, this is different from mindlessly distracting yourself. You can then return to the part later on your own, and/or bring up the situation in a therapy session so we can work on it together.
If you have questions or want to practice this together in our sessions, just ask! See you in session,