An Internal Family Systems Journey through the 12 Steps

I believe that the Twelve Steps can be helpful in our journeys of healing any addictive or compulsive relationship we might have with food and our weight and body-image, as well as the shame we feel about ourselves that fuels these behaviours.  However, if 12 Step recovery is to be effective in our healing, every part of us needs to be on board with our initiative to change using this or any other method. No part of us should be forced to trust any method, or shamed for not feeling trusting.

I believe that in order for more of us (and more inner parts of us) to be on board with change using a 12 step recovery program, a new paradigm and language for the 12 steps is required. I also believe that integrating the a 12 Step journey with an internal family systems journey is helpful, because IFS understands that, at beneath our addictions, there are traumatised children that can be witnessed, healed, and retrieved from the unhappy circumstances in which they’re stuck in past time.

The ongoing experience of belonging within a trusted community is a huge resource for anyone recovering from an addictive-compulsive food and weight cycle.  I love the 12 step programs for this: the place we have felt most like a failure or outsider becomes the reason to join hands and belong.  We’re not alone and it can be a massive relief. Years of shame and feeling isolated can spontaneously melt away when we are met with the kindness and companionship of equals who totally understand what we’re going through….  because they’ve been there.

It is my feeling, though, that the language of 12 Step recovery has become quite seriously burdened, with words like ‘wrongs’, ‘character defects’, and ‘He/Him’ (for God), which can add shame instead of helping us be free from shame as we recover and heal. This language can suggest that we need to get perfect – ‘sinless’ – in order to get well, and that only a male God outside ourselves can grant this gift if we only get on our best behaviour from now on!

I believe the language of 12 step recovery and the paradigm it points to is ready for a positive change, in order that more people – and all parts of every person – can feel the steps are accessible and welcoming to them too. 

The Internal Family Systems model gives us just such a way of reframing the steps so that it can feel safe and welcoming to many more people than it currently does, who might be in need of transformation around their food through the steps to heal their relationship with food. It reminds us that our addictive cycle is the result of a cluster of inner parts of us working very hard trying unsuccessfully to keep us safe, not the whole of who we are. It helps us support these parts to relax and unburden the heavy emotions we’ve been carrying around beneath it all.

The steps in their energetic, visceral, unadulterated (by language and people’s opinions) and spiritual form are totally perfect as a solution to recovery from eating disorders and addictions, I believe.

When language gets old though, for some people the spiritual timelessness of what the language points to gets lost. The heart and soul can seem to be missing, even if they aren’t. All too often, people with addictions turn away from 12 step recovery having read the steps or associated literature, feeling sure it isn’t a place of hope and healing for them.

It’s my mission to spread the word about the IFS-reframe I have created for each of the 12 steps. It is my ardent hope that this reframe will blossom into an accessible and non-pathologizing alternative language for the 12 steps, totally compatible and workable with membership of the existing fellowships. It would be life-giving for all who find the current language impenetrable in aiding them with their spiritual awakening, but who feel they have nowhere else to turn and no other solution than a spiritual experience for inner-change.

The Anonymous programs provide a wealth of structure, spirituality, guidance and compassionate fellowship to anyone who struggles within an addictive compulsive cycle.  I invite you to explore what each one offers, by following whichever of these links feels most relevant to you personally.  This is not an exhaustive list, but these are some of the main ones.  These fellowships may also have web pages specific to your own country.

Once you have found the fellowship that you are drawn to, feel free to contact me, and I will send you my written reframe of the 12 Steps in their IFS form, and some questions to get you started.

For alcohol and drugs: and

For challenges with food and weight:

For issues with money: debting or underearning: and

For sex addiction or love addiction:, and

For nicotine:

For gambling:

For internet addiction:


If you don’t see your specific addiction listed here, please feel free to reach out to me.  I may know which fellowship to point you towards.