Abstract The likelihood of nurse reflection is examined from the theoretical perspectives of Habermas' Theory of Communicative Action and Moral Action and Sumner's Moral Construct of Caring in Nursing as Communicative Action, through a critical social theory lens. The argument is made that until the nurse reaches the developmental level of post-conventional moral maturity and/or Benner's Stage 5: expert, he or she is not capable of being inwardly directed reflective on self. The three developmental levels of moral maturity and Benner's stages are presented with discussion on whether or not there can be self-reflection because of an innate vulnerability that leads to self-protective behaviours. It is only when the confidence from mastery of practice has been achieved can the nurse be comfortable with reflection that enables him or her to become enlightened, emancipated, and empowered. The influences and constraints of the knowledge power between nurse and patient are acknowledged. The power hierarchy of the institution is recognized as constraining.