Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Calm your Inner Critic

Feb 27, 2020 –

We all harbor an inner critic. Negative self-talk and self-criticism can impair our confidence and self-esteem. It can also lead to imposter syndrome, where we doubt our expertise or competence.

A recent study revealed that practicing self-compassion decreases the stress response and lowers heart rate. Researchers divided 135 healthy University of Exeter students into 5 groups, each receiving a different 11-minute audio treatment. Researchers measured heart rate and sweat response, and they collected self-reported information about how likely participants were to be kind to themselves, how safe they felt, and how connected they felt to others.

The 2 groups who received self-compassion instructions experienced lower heart rates and sweat responses. They also reported feeling safe and relaxed, as well as more self-compassion and connection with others. Researchers stated that the findings demonstrated that practicing self-kindness downgrades the stress response and promotes regeneration and healing. The recordings for these groups were a compassionate body scan, where participants were instructed to notice body sensations with an attitude of interest and calmness, and a loving kindness exercise, where participants were guided to direct kindness to themselves and their loved ones.

The other treatment recordings induced a critical inner voice that led to increased heart rate and sweat response. Self-criticism has also been associated with anxiety and depression.

Takeaway: Self-compassion practices empower emotion regulation and dampen stress response, including reducing heart rate. To learn more about self-compassion practices, check out the resources below.


  1. Jack Kornfeld, A Meditation on Lovingkindness, (short article):
  2. Sharon Salzburg, Why Loving-kindness Takes Time, Jan. 19, 2018 (article plus 47 minute guided meditation):
  3. John Kabat-Zinn, This Lovingkindness Meditation is a Radical Act of Love, Nov. 8, 2018 (article plus 45 minute guided meditation):
  4. Mount Sinai Health System, Compassionate Body Scan (20 minutes):


  1. Inner Critic: GoodTherapy,
  2. Imposter Syndrome: Debra Austin, Windmills of your Mind: Understanding the Neurobiology of Emotion, 54 Wake Forest Law Review 931, 964-65 (2019) .
  3. The Study: Hans Kirschner, Willem Kuyken, Kim Wright, Henrietta Roberts, Claire Brejcha, and Anke Karl, Soothing Your Heart and Feeling Connected: A New Experimental Paradigm to Study the Benefits of Self-Compassion, Clinical Psychological Science Volume 7, Issue 3 545-565, May 1, 2019,
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