I can't help but identify with Nathan Petrelli, who looks in the mirror only to see himself. There he stands, burned and broken, having failed in all things. It's because he fears that this is true that he is overtaken by the nightmare, that he punches the mirror so that it breaks and there is blood on his knuckles. He denies but he does not believe himself when he denies; he believes more strongly in his nightmare self than in who he is.
There's a tale told by Moses that echoes the principle.
- Rabbi Yisrael Lipschutz, a classic 19th century commentator on the Mishnah, tells the story that a king once heard about the greatness of Moses and commissioned an artist to go to the Israelite camp to paint a portrait of him. Upon the artist's return, the king gasped when he saw the portrait of what appeared to be a mass murderer. "How can this be?" shouted the king. "This evil man which you painted cannot be Moses!" The artist insisted that the evil degenerate in the portrait was indeed Moses. The king could not believe this and himself traveled to the Jewish people's camp in order to see Moses in person. When the king arrived, he was astonished to find out that the artist had in fact painted Moses. The king, surprised, admitted to Moses why he originally did not believe the artist. Moses responded by saying that the evil they saw in his face was there. Those evil characteristics were a part of him since birth. However, it was precisely because he could contain and control his natural evil instincts, that Hashem chose him to lead the nation of Israel. Moses had proven that he could conquer those evil impulses within him and transform them to good.
I think that our worst nightmares are not ones where we are placed in dangerous or frightening situations but our fear of who we ourselves truly are and could become. It is only when we accept these aspects of our personality and admit the characteristics and qualities that are ours that we can change ourselves.
If we truly know ourselves then we know what we could be.