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Actualizers: a 4th type of Part in IFS

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

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: who they are. what they do.

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.

7 hozzászólás

2023. aug. 25.

I hollered aloud when I read this page. Now that you’ve articulated it, Rennie, the concept of unburdened parts is so blindingly obvious, and so massively important to the IFS model as it actually works, that I’m astonished it’s taken decades for someone to name it. The world needed your system’s specific genius to fill in a gaping hole in IFS theory with this precise concept!

What I find most powerful about the idea of “actualizer parts” is the way it refracts the traditional IFS account of Self. This is the passage where I hollered:

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…


2023. ápr. 13.

Rennie, This makes so much sense to me. Formalizing actualizers:

Brings attention to polarities (our parts are neither good nor bad, but both. That both/and is an important perspective.)

Brings attention to the good! We can have such an addiction, as a species, to what’s wrong. By bringing attention towards the actualizing aspect of our protectors, exiles, etc, we open up creative energy – seeing the wisdom and intelligence that co-exists in all.

My two cents. ☺ Thank you for this important 'add'!


2023. ápr. 05.

Interesting thoughts. I actually started learning about parts in Psychosynthesis, and the first parts I met were what you call "actualizers" (a funny part, an organized part, a kind woman on a horse). My mind/parts don't really like the word "actualizer"- it sounds kind of like an agenda, itself. My system prefers "helpers" (helping the system do things, enjoy things, notice things, etc). Just a thought :)

Karen Grayson
Karen Grayson
2023. ápr. 08.
Válasz címzettje:

Hey there! Thank you for your reply. I get what you're saying. Actualizer is kind of a heady academic word, true. What does Psychosynthesis call these parts?

All the words I've considered so far (helper, coach, advisor, etc.) are good options... and perhaps easier to adopt than a tongue twister like Actualizer.

Still, I'm trying to convey the idea that this part merely manifests a tangible sense of one's Essence into the world with no other agenda than the pure expression of some particular quality of Self.

Anyone have other words that invoke this idea? I'm open!

🌸💕 Rennie

P. S. Many of my helpers still have burdened agendas. Actualizers show up post-healing!


2023. ápr. 04.

Rennie and Mark,

What a great conversation! Question. Is this either/or, meaning it's either Actualized Doer Parts, or Formerly Polarized Parts that have been transformed from being adversaries to allies? Can it be "yes and ..." Can both of you wise souls be right? I think so.



2023. ápr. 04.

I am eager to respond to your post. There is an important conversation to be had here. I would love to have a group of IFS therapists meet to talk theory. My supervision group used to do some of that, but we focused more on our own work. The Great Lakes Retreat that Tanis Allen produces has this conversation, but we haven't been able to get together for a few years now. I agree that we need to have a lexicon that includes descriptions of healthy functioning. We are healers so we find disease. We need to have a way of describing what we are trying to nurture. I like the term Actualizer. I resonate with the Abraham Maslow hie…

2023. ápr. 04.
Válasz címzettje:

Mark! Great to hear your thoughts. I'm eager to continue the dialogue. Let's explore what "healing" means in IFS and beyond. Also, how unburdening relates to improved relationships between and among polarized parts. Lots to discuss! I suppose I'm more enthralled with the power of unburdening than you are. Hmmm. What's that about? As usual, you've got me thinking.

🌸💕 Rennie

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