Ability, capacity, and capability

Ability and capacity are described as synonyms in many dictionaries. I’ve skimmed through some articles on this, and there are different perspectives. Many discussions also included the definition of capability and made a distinction between the three. Some discussions got quite philosophical.

This is some of what I’ve gathered from my reading:

Capacity refers to the extent – the maximum amount – that something or someone can perform.   There is a limit to capacity – like once a glass is full, it cannot hold more water. It has reached its capacity.

Ability refers more to the skill, talent, means, and/or opportunity that someone is in possession of in the present.

Capability refers to the potential of being able.

I think about limits, what I am capable of doing vs. my capacity. For example, I may be capable of holding down a 40 hour a week job, but I may not currently have the capacity to do so. There may be limits to my energy and resources that may compromise my ability to do the job well.

Can I increase my capacity? Perhaps, it depends. But that takes intention, time, and energy, kind of like adding rooms to a house so that more people can live there.  I hope that the sensory integration exercises will help increase my overall capacity (in general, not just for work), but I don’t know what that will look or feel like.

I’ve been thinking in broad terms about the times in my life when I said “I can’t.” In the past, I’ve had others suggest that I have  a negative core belief that I am not able or capable due to my sensitivities or whatever else.

However, it’s possible I doubted my capacity more than my abilities. There’s the whole, “you’ll never know what you’re capable of doing until you try.” And I did try. I tried hard, and I was fairly successful for a time. However, there was a large energetic cost – I went over my capacity, over my therapeutic edge and stimulation threshold. So in that case, “I can’t” could have been more of an expression of “I’ve reached my limit and it would be extremely challenging to continue right now. I’m overstimulated and I’m shutting down.”

I didn’t have the words then. I’m starting to now.  The more I know about myself, how I process information and stimuli, the more I can communicate about what I am experiencing.  I realize that increased self-advocacy has the potential (the capability!) to give me more power and agency in my life.  And that’s pretty exciting.


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