Whenever we face a potentially threatening situation, our first and most basic choice is whether to face up to the problem, or push it out of our mind. In principle, everyone believes in confronting problems, but in practice we avoid them all the time. We don’t do so because we’re crazy, we do this because it works – at least in the short run.
Awareness of problems causes anxiety, and anxiety hurts. Pushing away an upsetting thought, on the other hand, makes us feel better immediately. This feeling of relief is reinforcing; it strengthens the defense mechanism of avoidance. Over time, this sequence can evolve into a vicious cycle that digs us deeper and deeper into a hole of our own making.