The human brain must do three operations when confronted with a bad situation. The first is in the Toddler brain. When something bad happens — or seems like it might happen — the alarm sounds in the Toddler brain: fear, anger, shame, anguish. The alarm is usually triggered by external change (cues in the environment) or internal change — something felt, thought, recalled, or imagined. (Remember, the Toddler brain has only primitive reality-testing; toddlers confuse reality with what they feel, think, remember, and imagine.) The second operation is in the adult brain, where the alarm/signal is interpreted and the perceived bad thing assessed for threat and damage. The third and most important operation, improve (without making things worse), is in the more profound part of the Adult brain. Alas, those who have developed habits of retreating to the Toddler brain under stress tend to get stuck in a feedback loop of the first two operations. Instead of testing the alarm against reality, the interpretations and assessments by habit enhance it by justifying it. They never get to the Adult brain’s ability to improve.
— Steven Stosny, Soar Above, p. 123-124