Taming Your Inner Critic: 5 Emotional Intelligence Skills to Build Mental Health and Increase Happiness

Do you ever feel like your mind is a bully? Does that little voice inside your head constantly put you down, telling you that you’re not good enough, or planting doubt and worry? If so, then you’re not alone. The Inner Critic is very common and can be extremely discouraging. If you are a victim of harsh inner criticism, it’s time to bridle your self-talk and learn strategies to create inner peace!

Estimated reading: 7 minutes

Blonde woman with swirling above her head representing the chaos and stress of the Inner Critic.You may not realize it, but emotional intelligence begins in the mind. And it’s our job to become responsible gatekeepers for our minds. Just like we need to take care of our physical health by eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly, we also need to care for our mental health. One way to enhance our mental state is by learning and practicing emotional intelligence instead of using feeling stoppers.

Using emotional intelligence skills, you can create spaciousness inside your mind and encouraging self-talk to build inner peace and achieve greater happiness.

Deep Dive: "What Is Emotional Intelligence?"

Emotional Intelligence Strategies to Retrain the Inner Critic

Here are five principles you’ll want to ponder, along with five emotional intelligence skills that can help quell the Inner Critic and build better mental health.

PREMISE #1: By mastering the mind, you can create the quality of life you desire.

The mind creates—for better or for worse. It constructs and orchestrates your reality through past experiences, your interpretation of events, your thoughts, and where you put your attention. Change the quality of your thoughts and you will positively affect your life.

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE STRATEGY #1: Increase Self-Awareness.

When it comes to taming the Inner Critic, self-awareness is key. It’s crucial to become aware of the thoughts running through your head daily.

Therefore, the first emotional intelligence skill to master the mind is to become more aware of your inner landscape. It’s essential to notice when the Inner Critic is speaking and what it says. Once you are more aware of its presence and effect, you’ll begin seeing unconscious patterns. Below are some discovery questions for you to explore.

      Discovery Questions:

  • Does the Inner Critic only speak up when you are in a new situation?

  • Is it most active when you’re with a particular person?

  • Does the Inner Critic blast you with criticism and shame when you make a mistake?

  • Are there different personalities to your Inner Critic, such as the Protector, the Whiner, or the Doubter?

  • Is there a reoccurring theme or phrase that you say to yourself?

Yes! I want to increase self-awareness

Getting curious and raising self-awareness will help you calm and retrain your mind.



PREMISE #2: Our thoughts create our reality, but they are not necessarily true.

We have thousands of thoughts daily. However, many thinking habits were acquired in childhood. Often thoughts stem from the incomplete and inaccurate conclusions of a child in their attempts to feel safe. These thoughts repeated over and over became unconscious bad habits, eventually becoming beliefs. Unfortunately, we can neglect to update these patterns and perceptions because they've become so familiar that we identify with them as “it’s just the way I am.”

Thus, people can have the same negative self-talk they did as children or adolescents. For example, maybe math didn’t come easy to you as a child and you felt a lot of pressure. Eventually, you figured it out and became pretty proficient. However, as a child, you repeatedly said to yourself, “I’m not good at math.” So, as an adult, every time you go to balance your checkbook or figure out a tip on a dinner bill at a restaurant, you get brain fog or an annoying chatter causes you to doubt your ability.

Related reading: “The Origin of the Inner Critic.”

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE STRATEGY #2: Question the validity of what your Inner Critic says.

Remember, thoughts are not reality; they are only thoughts. They may or may not be accurate. The Inner Critic tends to operate on assumptions and often speaks in absolutes: always, never, every time, etc. So, don’t accept your thoughts as fact or truth—question them.

       Discovery Questions:

  • Are these thoughts true?

  • Do they serve a worthwhile purpose?

  • Is the mind being helpful or unhelpful?

  • What is the underlying need fueling a particular thought pattern? (For example, it might be safety.)

  • How can I be more encouraging to myself?

By challenging the validity of your thoughts, you'll soon see that many of them are outdated and untrue. Keep raising your awareness.


PREMISE #3: Change your mind, change your life.

Our Inner Critic is not a friend or a foe. It was constructed from experiences, perceptions, and conclusions and dramatically influenced by what we were told by parents, teachers, and other mentors. Now, as an adult, if you don't like your thoughts—change them!

Negative or positive thoughts impact your life. You decide what you want your inner life to feel like. If you are harsh and criticize yourself frequently, it intensifies self-doubt and promotes self-loathing. Therefore, building self-compassion will have a completely different outcome. You decide.
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EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE STRATEGY #3:
Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in each moment with nonjudgmental awareness. When mindful, we observe our thoughts and emotions without judging them as good or bad. We allow them to simply be. This mindset creates space between our inner Critic and the automated messages we've come to expect and accept as "normal."

Catch yourself when you're ruminating or obsessing about something and refocus your attention on what's happening right now. We can make more conscious choices about how we want to respond rather than reacting on autopilot. However, this requires awareness, effort, and practice.

Related reading: "Why Is Mindfulness Important? And 3 Simple Practices."


A man painting while redirecting his Inner Critic to the Encourager.PREMISE #4: Don’t try to fix or get rid of your Inner Critic.

The Inner Critic is part of you and serves a purpose, even if that purpose isn't always straightforward. Recent studies show that self-criticism plays a role in keeping us safe

However, safety can be defined too stringently and based on outdated conditioning factors that prevent us from growing. How you define safety as an adult is far different than as a child. You have choices now that you did not have when young and dependent.

ALL GROWTH and true change happen outside our comfort zone and require us to stretch ourselves into new ways of being.

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE STRATEGY #4: Acknowledge and retrain your Inner Critic to be your Inner Encourager.

Your Inner Critic is not the boss of you! You are the captain of your own mind, body, and emotions!

The job of the survival brain is to keep you safe. And I’m sure you’d agree that safety is critical. The Inner Critic could be seen as an offshoot of this part of your brain; it’s seeking to keep you alert so you can avoid threats, react quickly, and discover and fix what is wrong. However, this habit of thinking doesn’t always serve you productively and can be changed. This part of ourselves, when investigated, gives us an opportunity to become our best selves and learn what we value and what is most important to us.

The Inner Encourager’s job is to build you up and help you stretch outside your comfort zone into new experiences. To retrain your Inner Critic, become aware of the self-talk going on in your head throughout the day. Acknowledge the Inner Critic’s message with a simple “thank you for sharing,” then quickly reframe the message to something more encouraging, supportive, and constructive.

In other words, it's time to give your Inner Critic a new job description!

Discover More


A brain lit up with neural pathway connections with blue background.PREMISE #5: Our brains can be rewired.

Brain science shows that we can repattern our neural network. We are not victims of our Inner Critic. We can change how we think, feel, and behave by using emotional intelligence skills. Therefore, you can transform your mental habits into whatever you want! You have the chance to get in the driver’s seat of your life and steer your mind—and your life—in the direction you want.

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE STRATEGY #5: Use affirmative statements and self-compassion to create new neural pathways.

Affirmations are positive statements that can help to challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts. When we repeat affirmations (best when replacing a negative thought), we are effectively retraining our brain to think in a more positive and productive way.

Self-compassion is a practice of being kind and understanding towards ourselves, especially during difficult times. When self-compassionate, we give ourselves the same care and understanding that we would give to a good friend.

Research has shown that self-compassion can increase our resilience when facing difficulties and help us make positive life changes. As Dr. Kristen Neff recommends,

“While engaging in this supportive self-talk, you might want to try gently stroking your arm, or holding your face tenderly in your hands …. Physical gestures of warmth can tap into the caregiving system even if you’re having trouble calling up emotions of kindness at first, releasing oxytocin that will help change your bio-chemistry.”

Affectionate touch and simple kind acts of kindness toward yourself will invoke a calming response. Emotional intelligence skills can help you to bridle your Inner Critic and redirect it into a more uplifting internal experience. By taking charge, making a conscious choice to think and act differently, and using emotional intelligence skills, you can create encouraging self-talk to build greater inner peace and happiness.

Remember, you’re not alone on this journey. Reach out to Heartmanity if you’d like support on the path of transformation.

Transformation IS our business, and emotional intelligence is our specialty!

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Jennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence CoachJennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence Coach
Jennifer’s passion is to help people create thriving relationships first with themselves and then with each other. She teaches emotional intelligence skills and a step-by-step process that removes the obstacles to growth, loving connection, and communication. Her popular One Year Makeover and Return to Serenity programs provide a personalized approach to transformation. By utilizing brain science, clients integrate unresolved pain and restore inner peace and well-being through a fun learning experience. Jennifer also creates cultural transformation in companies with leaders and teams. Jennifer is happily married to her beloved husband and is the mother of three grown children.

Posted in Emotional Intelligence & Fitness

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