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  • Writer's pictureClair Neill

Understanding and Healing Exiles in IFS Therapy

Have you ever felt a deep sense of sadness or shame that seems to come from nowhere? Or maybe you have memories that you've buried deep down because they are too painful to think about. These experiences are called exiles in Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, and they play a critical role in our emotional and mental health.


So what are exiles? Exiles are parts of our psyche that hold painful emotions, memories, and beliefs that we are not ready or willing to face. They are often created in childhood as a way of coping with overwhelming experiences or emotions. Over time, exiles can become hidden or suppressed, and we may not even be aware of their existence.



How do exiles affect us? When exiles are not addressed, they can have a negative impact on our mental health and well-being. They can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Exiles can also impact our relationships and behavior patterns, causing us to engage in self-destructive behaviours or withdraw from others.


How can we work with our exiles in IFS therapy? The first step in working with exiles is to access them. This can be done by tuning into our emotions and physical sensations, and identifying any parts of ourselves that are feeling particularly vulnerable or wounded. Once we have accessed our exiles, we can begin the process of unburdening them by exploring their emotions, memories, and beliefs. Through this process, we can begin to heal our exiles and integrate them into our psyche.


An example of healing an exile: Tom (not a real person) had a distraction exile that was particularly activated whenever she felt lonely or bored. This part of him would lead hi’m to engage in self-destructive behaviours, such as binge eating or drinking too much. Through IFS therapy, Tom was able to access her exile and explore the emotions and beliefs that it held. He realised that this part of her was created as a way of coping with the loneliness he felt as a child. By acknowledging and healing his exile, Tom was able to integrate this part of herself and develop new, healthier coping mechanisms.


Exiles are a crucial part of our emotional and mental health, and working with them in IFS therapy can lead to significant healing and growth. By accessing and unburdening our exiles, we can integrate them into our psyche and develop a deeper sense of self-awareness and self-compassion. If you are struggling with emotional pain or trauma, consider seeking out a qualified IFS therapist to explore your own exiles and begin the healing process.

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