There’s good and evil in all of us. Do you know what you’re truly capable of?

There are two people who have entered my life in the last several years who I am genuinely afraid of. The first was a client who abused me at work. I felt uneasy about this client from the very beginning and voiced my concerns numerous times. The abuse went on for eleven months before this client was finally kicked out of the program. I thought I would feel better once they were gone but I didn’t. I was diagnosed with PTSD and went through months of therapy.

A few years have passed and I’m doing much better now.

The second person was more recent – a person close to the family. I had my guard up because I had known for a while that this person lacked empathy and can be pretty selfish. I didn’t want them around but I felt I didn’t have a choice. After months of being disrespectful, they finally lashed out at me in a very cruel way. 

But it turns out I do have a choice. I chose distance. These people are no longer a part of my life. I am finally protecting myself and putting my well-being first. 

Yes, I’m scared, but these experiences also left me confused. Why did they act like that? Do they think it’s okay to act like that? They revealed their true colors and I wonder what else are they capable of. 

True Crime TV

This past winter I watched a lot of true crime documentaries. I think it’s absolutely fascinating and clever how detectives solve murders and other violent crimes. The shows all seem to start the same – “they were a normal family from a quiet community…”

Normal family from a quiet community? I’ve never been a victim of violent crime and I don’t know anyone who has been a victim either, but you can’t deny that it’s a possibility for all of us.

These shows leave me with the same confusion I felt from the two people I mentioned above – Why did they do that? Do they think it’s okay to do that?

If these are just normal people, how do they end up in these situations? This brings me to my next cringe-worthy question…

What am I capable of?

I know what it feels like to snap or be unhinged, but in those few desperate moments I never even thought about turning to violence. In those instances, I tend to turn inward. I think it would be far more likely that I would hurt myself rather than someone else. 

But at some level, are we all capable of violence? Or does it take a certain person to carry out violent acts?

I definitely have my guard up a lot more than when I was younger – especially with the abuse and malice I’ve experienced in the last several years. I’m weary of meeting new people and worry about who my daughter comes in contact with. You just never know what people are capable of.

Sorry for being so dark. I just think it’s an interesting topic.

However, I started this post with “there’s good and evil in all of us”. Usually, when I publish a post like this there are some positive and optimistic comments so I’m going to take your advice and focus on the good. What good am I capable of? What good are others capable of?

So what do you think? Have you ever met a person that left you afraid and confused? How do you protect yourself? And on the flip side, what are you capable of?


  1. StevoR says

    No. No I don’t – & I hope I never have to find out. Plenty of things I’m not proud of doing in my lfe as it is.

    Circumstances, context, desperation. yeah. Those do F people up real bad,

    Also ” Have you ever met a person that left you afraid and confused? “ Yes. How did I protect myself? Not very well as it turned out.It s extra hard when you love them.

  2. Oggie: Mathom says

    ave you ever met a person that left you afraid and confused? How do you protect yourself? And on the flip side, what are you capable of?

    He didn’t really frighten me. But the abuse, and the confusion stemming from that abuse, frightened me. Partly because, even that young, toxic masculinity was part of who I was and what he did to me, and others, wasn’t supposed to happen to a boy. I mostly forgot about what he did to me. Until I was reminded of what happened and the memories (some contradictory) came back.

    I was terrified that if I didn’t maintain control, I would become abusive myself. I have a good therapist who helped me work through most of the shit. I no longer worry about doing to others what my cub scout leader did to me. I protected myself, initially, by trying to please him, trying to anticipate his wants and needs and desires, even hurting others to avoid being hurt, and by not remembering. When I remembered, I tended to lash out, be hypercritical of myself, quick to judgement. Now, I’m on an even keel. I guess.

    I don’t know what I am capable of. As a child, I could be violent (no one ever wondered why I was). I broke a kids nose. I never had to find out when I was in the Army. The emergencies I dealt with when I was a park ranger did show me positive things within my capabilities, but nothing that stretched beyond my training, knowledge and abilities. Visitors get injured at national parks.

    Luckily for me, most of the worst challenges that have come at me as an adult have come when I was on duty — at the park or at a wildland fire — and my options were seriously circumscribed. I’ve been called a jackbooted fascist by a western redneck in a huge pickup truck with four rifles racked in the back window, but I stayed within my training and I never had to find out how I would have handled things getting completely out of hand.

    Which is probably not what you were really after, but the only one who truly terrified and confused me was me.

  3. says

    But at some level, are we all capable of violence? Or does it take a certain person to carry out violent acts?
    It seems pretty clear to me, from looking at human history, that the line between a pacifist buddhist monk and a spree-shooter is a lot finer than we’d like to imagine. I’ve encountered situations where people talk about moral trauma, etc., regarding killing other humans, yet in conversations I’ve had with real killers, they describe grim satisfaction or perhaps they’re worried about how much ammunition they have remaining.
    I am capable of adapting to any circumstances, and that covers it. By which I mean, if I were suddenly made planetary overlord, there would be a whole lot of people finding themselves in dire circumstances. I suppose that I might be a psychopath, because I simply would not hesitate to do what I think needs be done, and I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.

  4. John Morales says

    “I’m weary of meeting new people and worry about who my daughter comes in contact with.”

    You mean ‘wary’, but I get you.

    Not a bad thing, I reckon.

    “So what do you think? Have you ever met a person that left you afraid and confused? How do you protect yourself? And on the flip side, what are you capable of?”

    My attitude is that it’s best not to be facing a position where someone has sufficient power over you that it merits fear and confusion.

    I have been lucky to never have had to face that circumstance, but I think that if I were to do so, my first instinct would be to remove myself from the situation, or to try defuse it in some manner.

    If that doesn’t work… well, I think everyone is capable of some pretty extreme acts.


    What are people capable of? One data point I encountered years ago was about who participated in the rape of Nanking. Given unfettered power to rape whomever, it appears that about a quarter of young men in the occupying army took full and enthusiastic advantage of the situation, another quarter went along with the program because of social pressure, and half rejected the whole business. If 50% of men are trustworthy, then potential victims are still at high risk, but maybe we are making progress.

  6. brightmoon says

    I grew up with 2 narcissistic parents and I spent a great deal of my childhood letting people victimize me because I was afraid of getting angry and acting like either of my extremely immature cruel parents . I was about 11 and flew into a rage over another child teasing me and I really hurt her. Scared me that I could lose control like that . But I realized I really was capable of acting like my violent sadistic immature father ( mother was extremely emotionally abusive) and had a good long think about when it was appropriate to be violent and/ or cruel. I’m still scared of behaving like that but no longer afraid of protecting myself

  7. says

    Humans are adaptable to one of two survival strategies. In times of plenty, we can exist as gregarious predators, in a population working together for mutual benefit; but when resources are scarce, we can exist as solitary predators, regarding everyone similar to ourselves as a competitor and a threat. And each individual has some threshold, some level of perceived existential threat at which they will switch strategies. Because, when it comes down to it, sometimes one fat caveman has a slightly better chance of passing on his genes than two thin cavemen.

    And each and every one of us is probably only here today because an ancestor faced the choice between doing something that would ordinarily be unforgivable or dying ….. and chose to live.

    So we probably all carry within us the ability to do terrible things, precisely because there exist rare circumstances under which that might still make the difference between life and death. And it’s important to recognise this — if only so we can try to work around it by avoiding getting into the kind of situation likely to trigger the change from “dog mode” to “cat mode”.

    And note that while I have referred to it as a two-position switch, humans are really analogue continuous systems, not digital discrete systems, and there is usually a gradual onset. Most of us are aware that want of food can shorten a person’s temper; the portmanteau word “hangry” was recently voted “word of the year” in a poll organised by lexicographers and duly added to the dictionary. And while you probably won’t literally bite a person’s head off if they seem to be coming between you and dinner with a job request, it’s as well to take it as an indication that you need to take care of your own needs, the better to satisfy other people’s needs.

    All this means it is especially important for anyone who claims a position of responsibility for people to be aware of the first developing indications that all may not be well, and work extra hard to prevent it. A leader who allows the kind of circumstances to develop where their charges might be expected to turn against one another is an unfit leader.

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