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 evil 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 were all gung ho about being a hero.
- A case of failed Hero Insurance or discovering they caused a What the Hell, Hero? moment.
In conflict-based storytelling a great way to contrast a protagonist from an antagonist seeking "Ultimate Power", or a fellow protagonist with the same power, but lacking the fear, embracing it note .
Sometimes the end result of a Heroic BSoD or is itself the result of returning from said blue screen. Related to The Fettered as the fear of one's own strength can make them stronger in that they are not reckless or thoughtless when they apply it. Contrast Might Makes Right, Drunk on the Dark Side, Beware the Superman, Smug Super, Drunk with Power, and Screw the Rules, I Have Supernatural Powers!. An essential Part of The Cape and most purely "Good" superheroes, often overlapping with Humble Hero and/or Pro-Human Transhuman.
- It seems many of the officers of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads 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.
- Becomes an increasing problem for Mahsiro in Thou Shalt Not Die. After the Psy-Res incident her strength starts to grow to an absurd degree extremely quickly to the point that she can't do even the most mundane things without causing injury or damages. It quickly get's so severe that she starts to isolate herself from everyone around her out of fear that she might hurt or even kill those she cares about without even intending to.
- Prior to her Character Development regarding this trope, Koneko of High School D×D held back her Nekomata power, fearing she would end up like her sister Kuroka, who lost control and killed their previous master. Of course, it turns out Kuroka had rather sympathetic reasons for killing their previous master that had nothing to do with a loss of control.
- 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 (1984). 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 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. On the other hand, when The Kingpin had his aunt shot, he stopped holding back and nearly killed the Fat Man in a Curb-Stomp Battle.
- 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 .
- In Monsters Unleashed, Kei Kawade is keenly aware of how dangerous and destructive his ability to summon monsters is, to the point that he's considered a strategic asset by every intelligence organization on the planet. He's so scared of his own power that he starts considering himself a monster.
- Axis Powers Hetalia fanfic Gankona, Unnachgiebig, Unità: Why else do you think Italy hasn't taken over the world with his superspeed and sword skills that rival Japan's?
- Child of the Storm has Harry being genuinely terrified of hurting people with his powers as they start manifesting. While he's used to his magic, he can control it. His Psychic Powers (which are in the same Omega Class as Jean Grey, albeit not on the same level) and Super Strength, on the other hand, are Psycho Active Powers and prone to Power Incontinence. The former cause turbulence whenever his emotions get stirred up, and the latter initially flickers on and off, more or less at random. This leads to him trying the 'conceal, don't feel' approach. Bad idea. Nearly catastrophic, in fact. It takes literal Divine Intervention (from his mother, the White Phoenix of the Crown) to save him, Ron, Hermione, and Sean Cassidy when his psychic abilities run wild. After that, and a talk with Professor X, his attitude is more like sensible caution, but he's still wary of his Telepathy and terrified of what it could do without his knowing.
- At the beginning of Supergirl (2015) story Survivors, Kara doesn't know the limits of her own powers. She hurts her cousin while holding him and her eyes fire heat beams when she's feeling emotional. For all of these reasons she's overwhelmingly frightened of hurting someone.
- 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.
- TRON: Endgame Scenario: Jet Bradley's primary arc. After seeing the devastation caused by Thorne's rampage, the attempted invasion of Datawraiths, being on the wrong end of a server reformat, and causing the destruction of EN-1282, Jet had no reason to associate being a "User" with anything positive. Coming to The Grid after the events of TRON: Legacy, and seeing the devastation left behind, he has even less reason to want that role.
"I cant be a User in that way. Thorne, F-Con, Flynn...it all ended the same way; User dies horribly and a lot of innocent Programs go down with him. No thanks."
- In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Izuku Midoriya, who is Kryptonian in this story, is so strong that he has to be careful not to snap anything he grabs in two with his raw Super Strength. He's especially haunted by the time he nearly killed Bakugou, whom he considered his best friend, by accidentally tossing him all the way across a park and through the wall of a building. Since then, Izuku has sworn off his dream of becoming a Hero out of fear of what he could do to someone else.
- In the What You Already Know series, as Daniel Jackson develops his psychic abilities, after realizes that he can use his powers to enhance his physical strength in direct confrontations, he expresses fear that he might lose control and hurt one of his allies in a training session.
- In Juxtapose, Izuku begins to be reluctant to use his Quirk after he cripples the villain Tsuchigumo by deleting pieces of his internal organs in a desperate attempt to keep his friends safe. This is why he develops Air Step, which propels him forward at high speed by banishing the air in front of him. The problem is that this causes grievous harm to himself as he's slammed with the force of a truck to make this work. He gets over this after Recovery Girl teaches him to use it non-lethally and brings him to the hospital to let him treat a bedridden man who would otherwise need open surgery.
- Following the battle of Little Krypton in the Supergirl story Future Shock, Cat suffers from a bout of this after becoming Kryptonian as she's lost fine motor control over her hands.
- The Iron Giant. How the giant views his inadvertent reactions to guns.
- In Frozen, Elsa is terrified of hurting someone with her ice powers, a fear exacerbated by the fact that she did accidentally strike her younger sister Anna with them when they were children. Due to this incident, she drove herself into isolation in order to try to control her powers.
- 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 & Men is this at times, when ever he accidentally kills a small animal he is shown being very remorseful and promises to be gentler next time, 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 of knowing yourself so well or you become crippled by fear from the idea of having such a perfect and complete control over yourself (or, if the True name is not yours, having over another).
- In The 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. As he puts it, "I hate violence." As in, he hates the fact he can't keep his cool and leaves carnage in his wake every time he does lose it.
- 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 Mr Monk On Patrol, after she successfully stops a mini-mart robbery, Natalie feels disturbed by the what-ifs not just that she could have gotten hurt, but that she might have been wrong in her hunch or have injured an innocent by accident. Monk reassures her by telling her that her self-criticism proves she's a good cop; a reckless wannabe only interested in the thrill wouldn't think about the consequences.
- 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.
- Winston of Overwatch is not a fan of his more primal instincts. He keeps them in check most of the time, but will go full on psycho gorilla on someone if angered enough.
- Rean Schwarzer from The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has always been afraid of his ogre powers in that he believes he could cause a lot of harm to other people.
- 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 BSoD 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: Superman and Flash 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).
- When Flash and Luthor are mind-swapped in "The Great Brain Robbery", Luthor uses Flash's powers to do things (like vibrate objects until they shatter explosively) that Flash normally won't do because of the collateral damage risk.
- 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.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- In ''"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 that this is the reason for Princess Celestia's less-than-stellar fighting record: she has incredible power and could destroy Equestria single-hoofedly if she desired (witness Daybreaker), but she doesn't because she cares for her subjects' well-being.
- 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.
- In a lighter example, people feel like this when they first get to hold babies (or small animals).