"He who does not fear the sword he holds is not worthy of holding a sword."Sometimes it's hard to live with the thought you could kill, maim or destroy with very little effort, often the only difference between being a mass murderer and terrorist and a hero is being scared of what you are capable of and keeping it in check. For whatever reason a character (usually a hero or Anti-Hero) is worried about doing more harm than good whenever they use their powers or abilities. Sometimes this only causes a healthy amount caution and stricter set of self imposed moral rules, occasionally it can get to the point of being Willfully Weak and using Power Limiters but sometimes it's so bad that they are petrified with the fear of what could go wrong to the point of a Refusal of the Call, 10-Minute Retirement or becoming a Retired Badass. Occasionally this is the result of not knowing What You Are in the Dark where the little ideas in the back of the mind tempt them to abuse their power or position for the better good at the cost of general well-being or freedoms. The reason for this fear is what keeps it an interesting bit of character struggle note , as does how it may or may not be resolved or not. Expect a "World of Cardboard" Speech at one point or another. Some examples of the reasons for this fear could be one or more of these:
- Former or ongoing Power Incontinence in which case it can be very justified.
- Accidentally hurting or killing someone they were trying to protect or an innocent bystander.
- Their powers are serious Game Breakers, but using them as such would cause outright devastation to life and property.
- Their powers include a Superpowered Evil Side, a Defense Mechanism Superpower or a case of Good People Bad Powers.
- A serious case of Blessed with Suck.
- Previously using their powers for bad but seeing the error of their ways, resulting in The Atoner or Must Make Amends.
- This character is a pacifist of some sort who hates hurting people and their powers are too destructive for their liking.
- They are the Anti Anti Christ
- They have simply had enough of hurting folks and seeing bloodshed.
- Having reality smack the Wide-Eyed Idealist out of a person after they are all gung ho about being a hero
- A case of failed Hero Insurance or discovering they caused a What the Hell, Hero? moment
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- It seems many of the officers of the Gotei 13 feel this way and are taught to think as such.
- It's implied to be part of the meaning behind Squad 3's theme of "Despair" as given by Izuru Kira
Izuru Kira: "Battle is not a stage for empty heroics and nor is it something to take pleasure in. Battle is filled with despair. Dark, terrifying. That is the way that it should be. That way, people learn to fear battle and to choose the path of non-violence whenever possible."
- Meliodas from The Seven Deadly Sins has a problem with using his full powers and actual weapons on the grounds that he is too powerful for anyone to handle and has an aversion to killing. Case-in-point and what he considers his greatest failure, he completely destroyed the Danafor kingdom in the past when he let his wrath get the better of him.
- Fullmetal Alchemist
- The characters who refuse to use a philosopher's stone do this in a bit of an almost played with in a way in that the power itself they fear and refuse as is gotten by using up human souls, it's why Dr. Marcoh runs from the military, he is terrified of what they do with his research.
- Most of the veterans of Isval are hinted to still be getting over this after what they found themselves capable of in the war, most just hide it really well or convince themselves that they are now using these abilities for the greater good especially Lt. Hawkeye, Colonel Mustang and Major Armstrong (who actually freaked out on the battlefield and broke down crying after seeing what he was capable of.) Also a bit of why everyone is so creeped out by Kimblee, despite it all he completely lacks this fear.
- This is why Dr. Knox no longer considers himself a doctor and only worthy to work on corpses. In his mind, doctors make people better, but he has tortured them with his knowledge.
- Why Berthold is so careful about who he shares the secret of flame alchemy with, it's so powerful it can shape the world. in the same vein why Riza insists that Roy burn the secrets to Flame alchemy off her back
- The titular Rurouni Kenshin. He only uses a reverse blade sword because he is so damn deadly with a real blade and has already caused so much damage. It's also why he is determined to be the last of the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu kenjutusu.
- Why Guts from Berserk decides he has to fight from now on without fully using his berserker's armor: it causes his inner hell beast to take control and literally kill everything he sees and this is the embodiment of his internal rage and hatred... needless to say Guts has issues
- In the manga version of Battle Royale, Hiroki Sugimura has a case of this. He is a very powerful martial artist who feared that he would accidentally hurt people, or worse yet would come to enjoy hurting people in fighting, he went the route of being a Technical Pacifist instead and in the past would even allow himself to be bullied rather than stand up for himself. He would only get involved in fighting if somebody else was in danger of being hurt.
- When Lina Inverse of The Slayers learns what her secret spell, Giga Slave, really is about (it is about requesting intervention of an unpredictable, chaotic creator overdeity who may destroy the world on a whim), she goes through a period of being afraid of her own knowledge. This is, however, temporary and in the fifth season, she is once again ready to cast Giga Slave.
- Police officer Toshio Utsumi of Cat's Eye is a crack shot but is afraid of guns due the time in police school he fooled around with the gun and shot himself in the foot, and thus never carries a gun (something that in Japan is not as bad as a problem as it would be in other countries). He apparently gets over it after it's revealed, as he's later shown to carry his service revolver.
- Depending on the Writer his varying strength is attributed to mental blocks he has consciously put up to keep his power manageable. Also one of the trope codifiers as often it is shown that what he considers one of the biggest threats to the world is himself going rogue or being put under some kind of mind control, which is also why he considers it a good thing his best friend Batman keeps kryptonite in his arsenal at all times. In the Post-Crisis era comics, Batman's first chunk of Kryptonite was actually given to him by Superman for exactly this reason.
- After Doomsday develops sentience he gets hints of this, though part of his power is "evolving out" his weaknesses every time he dies and revives it could also be a natural fear of death, though he does get better with it to the point that in an alternate timeline he fits this to the point where he continues Superman's legacy in fighting an alien army. (his sentience was wiped out when the alternate timeline was unwritten).
- Supergirl is more hot-headed and more short-tempered than her cousin, but she is also frightened of her own power and she holds back most of time because she doesn't want hurt anybody.
- Cyclops, Depending on the Writer , which is why Professor X says he put Scott in charge of the first group: he applies the same caution and restraint to the other's abilities that he does to his own.
- Bruce Banner has this attitude about the Hulk, also a possible interpretation of Hulk's quote from 'World War Hulk'
Hulk: "I'll hate you forever. Almost as much as I hate myself."
- What eventually happens to Doctor Doom after he takes the god like powers of the Beyonder in Secret Wars. He realizes unless he watches his every thought and whim he can accidentally destroy a civilization with half a thought, eventually it gets the the point where he can't even sleep.
- Spider-Man. Spidey has some shades of this. Notably he doesn't drink because he's afraid of losing control of his super strength and after a certain incident involving Gwen Stacy is crazy cautious about calculating the force necessary to safely catch someone with a web line. He also occasionally seems to believe this is part of With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility. The only times he ever truly cuts loose are against superhumans who are stronger or tougher than him.
- Black Bolt king of The Inhumans has a voice so powerful he once immobilized The Hulk with a whisper and destroyed a city when he was born crying (he's only gotten more powerful), because of this he has taken a vow of silence except in extreme cases and has mastered body language.
- The golden age Green Lantern feels this way about his ring after seeing the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an Elseworld story to the point where he put away his ring for a time.
- The plot of Kingdom Come with all its Nineties anti heroes is essentially when super powered people stopped fearing what they might become if not careful and decided to ride the edge of hero and villain note .
- Tangled Adventures In Arendelle: Elsa struggles with this trope carried over from her movie. While she believes that her powers can be used for good (especially after talking with different people around the kingdom about different possibilities), she's still scared of one day losing control due to her emotions or the simple fact that she does not understand where her magic came from, so she doesn't know its limits or true control factors.
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- In The Dark Knight Lucius Fox has this reaction to the cell enabled sonar map of Gotham, which it seems Bruce anticipated and exactly why he only trusts it to Fox.
Lucius: This is too much power for one person.
Bruce: That's why I gave it to you. Only you can use it.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- In The Avengers, this is at least one of the reasons Bruce Banner has hidden in a remote corner of India — because the Hulk's strength is uncontrollable when he gets angry. He's even tried to kill himself to stop it.
- In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Banner, now that he's willingly transforming to fight with the Avengers, is afraid of what the Hulk could do to his teammates or innocent civilians. After Scarlet Witch makes the Hulk go on a rampage in Africa, Banner decides to run away after the crisis with Ultron is over, and the last we see of the Hulk is him flying away in the stealth quinjet. It's also why Natasha is in love with Banner: amidst all the fighting men all her life, he's the one who'll always run away from a fight because he knows he will always win.
- Lennie from Of Mice and Men is sort of this at times, when ever he accidentally kills a small animal he is shown being very remorseful and promises to be gentler next time (which is an after the fact example), and he really does try to be gentle, he also forgets how strong he is when not actively thinking of it, but how he waited to be told to fight back as he was being attacked by Curly could have been this.
- In the Inheritance Cycle Eragon is told that the dangers of learning one's true name is two fold, either you Go Mad from the Revelation when knowing yourself so completely good and bad or you become crippled by fear with the idea of having such a perfect and complete control over yourself (and if the True name is not yours having over another).
- In Wheel of Time, Rand, because using his magic will cause him to go insane, he is afraid that he will hurt people with his power. This is especially true after he uses Callandor against the Seanchan and ends up killing as many of his own men as the enemy.
- The "block" that wilders develop, preventing them from using their power except under particular limiting circumstances, arises from a similar fear.
- In the Earth's Children series Jondalar is afraid of the strength of his emotions, so he has trained himself to not get too attached to anyone. (In the backstory he had severely injured another man when the other man had caught Jondalar getting emotionally attached to a woman who it was culturally taboo for him to connect with.) This changes once he meets Ayla.
- Durarara!!. How Shizuo thinks of his berserker Super Strength rages and how they hurt people he doesn't intend at times
- Lamb from Red Country avoids fights and has developed a reputation for cowardice. What he is really afraid of is becoming the Bloody Nine again.
- In Super Powereds, Vince goes through that for a good part of the series, although he eventually learns to control himself and discovers his own limits, which calms him down. It doesn't help that he used to be a Powered, and his Energy Absorption ability could flare up at any time. In the Corpies spin-off, Titan is one of the physically strongest people in the world, but he almost never uses more than a fraction of his true strength for fear of collateral damage. A Hero's job isn't to kill unless necessary. When he finds out that the PEERS leader's ability is to boost others' physical parameters to their possible limits, Titan makes him promise to never use his ability on him, since he'd probably end up destroying a city block or two by accident. During the giant robot attack, though, he tells the guy to give him a boost and goes all out on the Humongous Mecha.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow spends most of Season 7 in this state; after the Dark Willow fiasco at the end of Season 6, which ended with her nearly destroying the world, she's terrified of using magic out of fear she would lose control again.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In "Let He Who Is Without Sin...", Worf tells how, when growing up on Earth, he accidentally killed a classmate during a soccer game. He was devastated by guilt, and the incident taught him that humans are more fragile than Worf. Ever since, he has been mindful to restrain himself in the company of others.
- Part of the Hand Wave for why Mega Man (Classic) and Mega Man X lose almost all of their upgrades in between consecutive games; they have the potential to be unstoppable in power, and they know it all too well. The latter is also a pacifist by his upbringing.
- In Star Wars: The Old Republic, this is where Nadia Grell starts. She's probably the most powerful telekenetic the galaxy's seen in a generation. However, she is the first and only known Force Sensitive of her species. As a result, no one knew how to train her or how to help her control her abilities. Rocks, trees, and other objects tended to explode if Nadia got too happy, too sad, too angry. Subverted, however, when the Consular gets to take her on as their padawan and finally teach her how to use what she has; after that, Nadia looks forward to testing her abilities and seeing what their limits might be.
- Dark Souls: Quelana, the most advanced teacher of Pyromancy in the game, repeatedly cautions the player to "Always fear the flame" even as she teaches flame manipulation. Knowing what happened to her family (transformed into demons when they created but failed to control the Flame of Chaos), it's very obvious why she would have this philosophy.
- In Hooky, Dani comes to fear her magic, as she lacks control over her immense power and could potentially kill someone by pure accident.
- In The Order of the Stick, after Vaarsuvius realizes how far-reaching the Familicide spell was, he/she has a Heroic B.S.O.D. made of My God, What Have I Done? and this, saying something along the lines of "This is the ultimate power I spent most of my life looking for? How many other innocents did I kill whose only sin was loving a stranger?"
- In Everyday Heroes, this is (combined with I Just Want to Be Normal) is implied to be the reason Summer Mighty does so little training to control her Super Strength or Eye Beams. It's been pointed out to her that the less she works with her abilities, the more dangerous she'll actually be, due to lack of control.
- Whateley Universe: A common theme for the protagonists, especially Phase and Tennyo. Ayla's worries are mostly misplaced, though his powers are quite dangerous and (especially early on) prone to Power Incontinence; Billie, on the other hand, is a genuine Person of Mass Destruction and is all too aware that she could kill people simply by getting angry enough that she begins emitting hard radiation.
- DC Animated Universe. Flash and Superman have this bad and it is used to Handwave why their powers seem brought down so that the League is about equal.
- In Justice League, in "Only A Dream", Superman's nightmare is entirely about what could happen to everyone else if he ever loses control of his abilities; in fact, Superman's personal version is the cause of the original "World of Cardboard" Speech
- Also see the League's horror while in the alternate dimension at the Justice Lord's actions in "A Better World", which is an example of when they lose that fear.
- Flash's is more hinted at as he is shown and hinted at being able to go faster than he does, which is also the cause of his Obfuscating Stupidity (see his character write up}.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender. Aang himself gets two of these in the show, with a third up for debate.
- During the episode "The Avatar State", Aang is haunted by how scary and destructive he can be when he's in Avatar State; being that he's a pacifist by nature and upbringing, it's very justified. In the episode he even says "I was scary" referring to the avatar state.
- After Aang burns Katara when he gets impatient with his firebending lessons, he swears that he will never firebend again, this comes up two more times, once in his training with Guru Pathik (who comments that it was the thing Aang let go of the hardest) and when he learns from the masters of the Sun Warriors, only letting it go when the Chief tells him Fire is not only destruction but life too.
- Aang's stopping of himself and his past lives from killing Ozai could be considered this or sticking up to his beliefs of pacifism and no killing but the fact that the horrified look on Ozai's face is the thing that seems to trigger it, it could be construed as a factor.
- Also Katara's reluctance to use blood bending is an example, she sees it as morally reprehensible and feeling wrong "Reaching inside someone like that."
- Teen Titans examples:
- This is how Terra felt about her powers when she first appeared which caused her to freak out and cause even more damage; "Don't lose control, Don't lose control" it's what eventually drove her to Slade where she got over both her control issues and her fear.
- In the same vein as Terra, Red Star was terrified of his powers due his inability to fully control them, leading to the destruction of a city when they first manifested with an explosive burst of radiations (similar emissions of radiations happen every time his powers build up too much, and he has to vent them in an apposite device or shout to everyone to run if he can't get to the device in time). He ultimately learns to control them, and loses the fear.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode Twilight's Kingdom Part 2, after realizing she has trouble controlling the combined power of all the Princesses' alicorn magic, Twilight tries to physically distance herself from her friends so she can practice in safety.
- In A Royal Problem, it's implied at this is the reason for Princess Celestia's less-than-stellar fighting record: she has incredible power, but because she cares for her subjects is the reason why she doesn't lash out.
- How many of the scientists of the Manhattan Project were said to have felt when they saw how well nuclear bombs worked.
- Mutually Assured Destruction is essentially this when thought out to its final conclusion, not only do the two superpowers destroy each other but they kill the entire planet.
- Many police and security personnel have to be tasered before they are authorized to carry and use a taser on others, in order to know what exactly it is they are doing. The reasons for this are twofold: Both so that they will appreciate how unpleasant being tazed is, and so that they will have confidence in the weapon's effectiveness at the critical moment.
- There's a longstanding apocryphal legend that André the Giant never hit anyone as hard as he could for fear of seriously injuring or killing them. Since it's been factually documented that he once picked up a car and turned it over onto its roof (a compact car, but still, and one that had several guys in it adding to the weight), it's not out of the question.