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  • Writer's pictureSamantha McMullen

Parts that hold stories

In my last blog post I discussed the "mental office" metaphor for how the brain stores trauma memories. Today I want to expand that metaphor to answer the question, "Who works in the office?" through the beautifully told story of Pixar's "Inside Out."

When I first learned about Richard Schwartz's Internal Family System Theory, I immediately thought of this film. It turns out, I am not as genius as I thought for realizing this connection, because Inside Out was inspired by AND is loosely based on the IFS model!

Several practitioners have already spoken about the connections between the movie and IFS, which I will link below.

What both of these articles discuss is how the main characters of the film, the emotions of Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust, can actually be seen as what IFS calls "parts."

If we go back to our visual of the brain as a "mental office," taking in information and sorting memories from short term in to long term, we can add in these parts as the staff of this busy work place. These staff members are trying to help us understand the world, and keep us safe from harm.

Remember when we talked about how trauma memories normally stay on the desk, sometimes shoved in a drawer or shredded and thrown around the office?

From the lens of IFS, it is our parts who pick up those fragmented, confusing memories, and hold on to them, instead of moving them into the filing cabinets aka long term memory. They struggle with this however, just as we do when we "take work home with us," and often become burdened and overwhelmed. Just like the character of Sadness in the movie, these parts of us carry memories, and create stories that we believe about ourselves because of trauma.

IFS shares that we can engage in "unburdening" our parts, by releasing these stories with the help of ones Self, who functions as the inner leader, or "office manager." IFS states we all have access to Self, which is pretty freaking cool when you think about it. We already have within us what we need to heal and organize our "mental office."

If you are interested in learning more about healing from trauma, please contact me through my website, email me at or call me at 818-465-8516.

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