In the 171st episode of the popular television series How I Met Your Mother, five central characters discuss the people they hate most in the world. For successful architect Ted Mosby, it is Professor Vinick, an architecture professor who once told Ted that he “would never be an architect.” For Robin Scherbatsky, it is Patrice, a coworker who appears to be dating the man that Robin loves. For married couple Marshall Eriksen and Lily Aldrin, it is Daryl LaCoutre, a college acquaintance who became infatuated with them after playing one game of hacky sack with Marshall in freshman year. Lily has a particularly creative way of describing her nemesis—he is her “pit guy,” or the person that she would like to throw in a pit in the bottom of basement, à la Silence of the Lambs.
The episode ends with a wholesome moral. When you designate someone as your “pit guy,” the only person in your pit is yourself. Hatred is a trap, and the more you meditate on it, the more it consumes you.
This is all well and good for television, but what about in real life? Granted, most of us do not have people whom we hate so passionately that we imagine torturing them in our basements. But many of us have people who we strongly dislike, and whom we would rather not see or deal with ever again. And unlike the nemeses in How I Met Your Mother, many of these people are probably well deserving of our censure. Maybe they are a family member who made our childhood extremely difficult, or an ex boyfriend or girlfriend who cheated on you. In situations like these, it hardly seems appropriate to foist all the blame upon yourself, and expect to be able to overcome the force of your hatred by sheer willpower.
In fact, blaming ourselves for strained or failed relationships—romantic, familial, or otherwise—can be incredibly damaging to our sense of self-esteem. We will spend a lot of time in our heads, asking ourselves the same questions. What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? But in reality, there are many situations in which these are the wrong questions to ask. The world is generally a good place, but there are some people in it who truly do hurt others with no provocation. When dealing with these kinds of people, there are different questions to ask. Why are they doing this to me? What is wrong with them? How can I cut them out of my life?
It is this latter question that represents the ultimate goal when we are faced with people who damage our lives. Toxic people will continue to poison our lives unless we completely remove ourselves from their influence. In this respect, How I Met Your Mother gets it right. Simply condemning someone in our minds, and placing them in our “mental pit” is not enough. We will not be able to stop thinking about them, and what we would like to say to them, and what they would likely say to us in response.
What, then, is the proper way to deal with our “pit guys?” If we acknowledge that it’s not our fault that they’re in our pit, and that it’s not necessarily our responsibility to get them out, what can we do to stop their reign of terror over our lives? There is no clear solution to this problem—entire books have been written about how best to remove negative influences from our lives. But I believe that the best way to cope with out “pit guys” is to shut the basement door. Don’t go down there, don’t press your ear against the door, don’t slip any notes under it. In a less metaphorical sense, this means refusing to engage with thoughts of your “pit guy.” Find ways to distract yourself, acknowledge your thoughts, and move on. Don’t travel down the dark alleys of your mind. In my opinion, this is the only way.