I think it's really fascinating to compare Barry and Cisco in terms of how they use their powers. Barry got powers and started running around saving people and learning more and more what he could do. Whereas Cisco was terrified of his powers, tried to hide them and I think still has times when he doubts his control and worries he'll hurt people. Barry could do just as much damage if he lost control but he doesn't dwell on it whereas Cisco does.
There’s some major differences in worldview and experience going in to that divergence, I think.
Barry is… such a Gryffindor.
Rushes in, has to be taught the value of a plan, chivalry and honor are where it’s at, saving people. Reckless and daring. The dude got powers and a day later was like “I’m gonna run into that tornado!”
That’s not normal.
But it makes sense, given where he’s coming from. First off, he has no reason to fear powers because he knows he’s not evil, and since they haven’t met any evil metas or dopplegangers or anything of the sort yet, he’s really got no reason to believe his powers might lead him down a dark path. So there’s no red flags associated with powers.
Second, Barry was the kid who got bullied but still tried to save other kids from getting bullied (this is canon).
And though he got bullied and beat up for it himself, he was rewarded at home for that behavior, with attention from his mother and grins from his father with fake admonishment. “Do the right thing” in the Allen household meant “stand up to bullies and help others”. You do what you can, what you have to, in order to help other people.
And in the West household that would’ve been similar. Barry spent half his life being raised by a cop, so “fighting bad guys” is sort of inherent within his worldview from that as well. He joined the CCPD with the skills he has because he believes in helping and saving others, including his father.
Barry’s nature means he rushes in toward danger to save people. Runs to save a kid from bullies (then has to run himself lmao), runs after the guy who stole Iris’s bag before he had powers, runs toward a tornado once he does have those powers. It’s really not about the powers, it’s just who he is.
(Which is why he keeps repeating this damn line).
The fact that he can hurt people… is something he has to learn later. For all the negative associations he gets because of his powers, all the people who die and the bad things that happen, the good came before the bad ever did, and saving people is whole worldview. That’s why he jumps in, goes too far, and that’s why he had to learn about the dangers of his abilities, that he can end the world by accident, or do great evil without intending to.
That’s the lesson from S3, from Flashpoint and Paradox and Savitar. But that was never his starting point.
But Cisco is coming at his powers from an entirely different perspective.
First off, the guy gets his powers activated from literally dying and the timeline changing. Ouch. That’s enough reason alone to have a bit of a discordant relationship with your powers. The first emotional association he has with them is death and pain. Even if he can use logic to work around that, his first and strongest feeling from them is… death.
And he didn’t even know he had powers. He thought it was just nightmares, until he found out that dream wasn’t really a dream, and that Barry changed the timeline. And what an uncomfortable realization that would’ve been. Cisco realizing he freaking died thanks to this person that he loves and who has mentored him?
And no one else really clues in that Cisco can remember because of meta powers, they just sort of accept it, until he tells Wellsobard, who doesn’t apologize for killing him but does tell him he has powers. Not only does that confirm Cisco’s fears (”it was really he really did kill me this isn’t in my head that was real i died i died i died–”) but Wellsobard, the dude who killed him, seems proud and excited for him. That evil motherfucker thinking it’s great Cisco has powers? Would not feel like a positive or ringing endorsement, right then.
So all of Cisco’s early associations with his powers were death, danger, and endorsement from someone he hates. It’s no wonder he didn’t want to talk about them and even hid them, especially because he probably knew that his friends would encourage him to explore his powers deeper, and if exploring meant seeing more death or negative and traumatizing visions, or making Wellsobard more proud of him… why should he?
Unlike Barry, Cisco didn’t spend his entire life chasing after bad guys trying to play the hero. “Some people achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” – yeah, Cisco had it thrust upon him, at least in the realm of heroism. He was great already at the things he was aiming at - science, innovation, technology. He got to save the day with those, and that’s where his identity and his core contributions felt strongest.
Sure he probably daydreamed about being a hero in the more classic sense, but I mean, his few tastes of it in season 1 included bluffing with a vacuum cleaner to save Barry and later getting kidnapped and his brother getting seriously hurt. Again, that last one? Not super encouraging. Not to mention helping Joe chase down Grodd and Joe getting caught, right? Ouch.
But then, finally, Cisco is exploring his powers. In his more Ravenclaw way, he learned about them could articulate a bit of what he does and how it works by the time he was talking to Barry and Caitlin about them, experimenting on his own, gathering information.
But it’s not long before the team is pushing him to do things outside his comfort zone and his powers are getting him into situations like visiting Earth 2 and meeting his evil doppleganger. Who almost kills Barry. Again, not a ringing endorsement. On this Earth, Barry and Iris aren’t evil, Joe’s not evil, even Wells from here isn’t evil. But here he is with powers and being evil. And then dead. Again.
No wonder he’s hesitant to open a breach to bring Zoom back to fight them after seeing how much damage his powers can do, how he can kill with them if he wanted to, how big his ego and hubris can get under the wrong circumstances.
No wonder he’s scared, after all that trauma and death and all the negative associations that have come out of his powers and the PTSD symptoms that are attached to triggering his visions at the outset. And it’s not even long before powers are being turned against his oldest friend. And he had visions of that happening, too. No wonder he was wary - he really could kill her if he lets go too hard.
So it’s sort of the opposite for Barry, who started on a high point with his powers and had to learn restraint and the damage they can do. Cisco saw the bad side to his powers from the outset. And while he had some visions in there that weren’t terrifying and bad, the majority were, at least for a long time, and he had to learn over time and through control how to find the good in his powers, the ways that they help. Had to save Barry’s life and have his powers help Barry save Tina McGee and had to save HR from Cynthia, had to really push himself, to find all the good feelings there inside that can be associated with his powers.
I guess the take away from S3 is that Barry learned just how dangerous his powers are even within himself, and what not to do with them. And Cisco learned how good his powers can be and how much positive strength he has while wielding them, the good that he can do with them.