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Actualizers: a 4th type of Part in IFS

Updated: Apr 3

I get asked all the time by IFS novices and professionals alike: "what do we call a part that's no longer in a burdened state?" What exactly are "Protectors" who are no longer protecting? What are "Exiles" when no longer exiled? Furthermore, some parts neither got wounded in the first place nor took on a burdened role in the second. They came into the world healthy and ready to serve and stayed that way. These healthy parts draw on Self-energy but function with particularity. What do we call a part in its naturally healthy state? (Dick Schwartz calls them "parts in their naturally healthy states." True. And, maybe we could sharpen this important distinction by awarding these healthy parts a positive title worthy of their constructive role).

The fact is, protectors get unburdened, shift roles, and then continue to function productively. Some continue to protect, and in healthy ways. These should still be called protectors. But others transform in ways that are no longer protective at all. How do we know this? They speak for themselves explaining who they are and what they do. Some protectors say things like: "now I'm just the healthy competitor part" or "what I'd like to do is be a..." cheerleader, an artist, innovator, etc.

Exiles, too, when completely unburdened and healed move toward one of two options: they integrate or stay separate. Sometimes they integrate right back into the system, getting absorbed, growing up, and seeming to disappear. However, other formerly-exiled parts clearly continue to participate fully in the system. They show up (and tell us so) as individual and unique helpers, expressing child-like joy or freedom, maybe musical flow, loving parenting, or spiritual guidance.

Given this, shouldn't there be a category for totally healed and healthy parts?

I think so.

I propose that we name a fourth type of part within the IFS lexicon: Actualizers.

In what follows, I'm going to describe the idea, say a bit about why it matters to me, and then consider some worthy objections. Others are invited! I hope this writing will help spark dialogue. Let's have a conversation. Help me refine the idea — or show me why it may be unnecessary.


An Actualizer is a part in your system who lives wholly in its natural and healthy state. It has no agenda and no job other than to exude its particular quality or skill. It's fueled by Self energy and led by Self; it shows up in a particular and distinct way in your system. In other words, it manifests a particular expression of you! Each of us is born with many of these healthy actualizer parts. They're often called attributes, innate abilities, or talents. I suspect that Wynton Marsalis has a beautiful healthy jazz-playing Actualizer. And my experienced CPA invokes her master accountant Actualizer part nearly effortlessly in completing my tax returns. Unlike me, she can rely on a Self-led calm Accountant-Actualizer when working on my 1040. Can you imagine?

Some Actualizers never took on a protective role or developed an exiled status. Others no longer suffer within an individual’s system but exist whole and free. They work in alignment with the Self, bringing into being the true nature of the human being in individual ways. It's probably why aligned systems still show such sparks of individuality and don't all seem the same. I want to honor and cultivate the gifts of each person, uniquely. If we each exuded the eight IFS Cs fully without particular human manifestations, it would be a pretty boring world; worse, it would be impossible because we need differentiation to be a unified whole. Gotta love the paradox!


What's the difference between Self Energy and an Actualizer? Aren't you just talking about Self but using new vocabulary?

Maybe. I am for sure talking about Self-in-action and I am certainly in favor of simplicity. However, The Self as an entity seems to encompass all that we are - our completeness - and I want also to honor our particularity and individuality. The Self doesn't play the trumpet, do taxes, or mother a tender five year old. The Self leads. Self-energy infuses or provides fuel for these actions. Healthy parts, I would say, are the worker bees doing the things.

Those of us engaged in the therapeutic world of Healing Arts can inadvertently and quite understandably focus almost exclusively on burdened or needy systems. I assume that's why, as Dick Schwartz was exploring and developing the model, he initially noticed Protectors, Exiles, and then Self. When we are working with traumatized and burdened systems, we quite appropriately focus on what needs healing, not necessarily on what's already healed or what never needed healing in the first place.

Why do we need to name this fourth kind of part? Maybe healed parts —which by and large name themselves anyway — are just healthy parts. Why add a type? Isn’t this just an unnecessary complication?

Maybe. I'm not in favor of overly-complicated theories and am the first to invoke Occam's Razor (the idea that the simplest most cogent explanation is best in any theory). However, complexity matters when it brings clarity.

In identifying Actualizers we get something of value not yet recognized explicitly in the IFS community. I think Actualizers help us understand a fuller breadth of our spiritual Selfhood. Self is a be-er not a do-er. The Self is our individual essence shining out its eight Cs (plus others) into the world. In order to manifest these Cs in particular ways, we need parts to carry out our Self's beingness. I think it makes sense to pay attention to whole and healthy parts because in attending to them, we cultivate them. Setting our intention to nurture Actualizer parts can bring more Self-expression of love beauty and justice concretely into this needy world.

Don’t we need healthy protectors and need them to be ready to shift on a dime from background safety patrol to foreground clear protection when needed? Many unburdened protectors state what they want to do as healthy protection, such as sentry or guide. Shouldn't we respect their sense of their job?

Yes. Many protectors shift goals into healthier protective roles. I am not in favor of diluting, much less negating, our crucial protective systems. I merely wish to acknowledge what is also possible: beautiful Self-energy can be crystallized in particular human ways. Some unburdened protectors continue in their protective role;s others transform fully into Actualizers. When you encounter a completely unburdened protector ready to shift roles, and you wonder, is this still a protector or is it an actualizer? Just ask. The part knows.

Well. there you have it; a possible new concept for the IFS Lexicon. What do you think, feel, and say about this idea? Lemme know!


* The 8 Cs of Self Energy, as offered by Dick Schwartz: creativity, calm, confidence, connectedness, compassion, clarity, courage, and curiosity. and a 9th from Cece Sykes: choice. We could go on... My favorite candidates are collaboration and candor.

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Protectors are parts (aspects) of your internal system who want to help you live a safe and flourishing human life. In their healthy and natural states, they are nothing short of what makes you human.

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