As humans, we automatically try to avoid pain and maximize pleasure. It isn’t necessarily conscious. We have automatic reflexes to help us avoid physical pain. When we come in contact with anything sharp or hot we automatically jerk away from it. There is no thought involved, it’s evolutionary.
What about emotional pain? We have defense mechanisms to help us avoid this too; some conscious, some unconscious. We use repression, which is unconscious. We literally forget things that cause us distress or emotional pain, and then we forget the act of forgetting. “The essence of repression lies simply in turning something away, and keeping it at a distance, from the conscious.” –Sigmund Freud. We also use suppression, which is a conscious act. We deliberately stop thinking about things that cause us emotional distress or pain.
The entire purpose of defense mechanisms is to protect ourselves. But to what extent do defense mechanisms actually help? For example, when I think about death, I begin to feel anxiety, so I suppress the thoughts and stop thinking about it. Well, how am I ever going to deal with something that will, inevitably, happen to me? Not thinking about feelings and emotions, and not dealing with the anxiety will make the time of death that much scarier.
Defense mechanisms are mostly automatic responses to pain and distress. I think avoiding defense mechanisms and actually being aware of our feelings and what causes us pain is hugely important. Talking with a friend, family member, therapist, or counselor is exactly how to deal with painful and distressing thoughts.
Avoiding feelings is perfectly natural and almost everyone does it. I, for one, am great at it.
(Funny side note: notice how I used “the” time of death, instead of “my” time of death… see how great at avoidance I am?)