How should we react to Karens?

I always wonder what sort of suppressed story or trauma these people have, that they externalize their frustration so much that they must express it.

“We see ourselves in other people” is a quote that my family often mentioned. What bothers us about others is typically something we can’t see in ourselves because we’re too close to the issue. It’s a defense mechanism.

Highly recommend the concepts behind Loving What Is: Four Questions that will Change Your Life, even if you toss out the religious components.

And Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg is a book that I wish was required reading for the world. He’s negotiated enthusiastic collaboration between African tribes that had generations of violence. Just a short glimpse of his wisdom:


Stories like this tend to be attributed to privilege, a sense of supremacy, and the resulting belief that everyone else must respond to the Karen’s personal standards of right and wrong. The people attacking, reporting, and complaining about others who are minding their own business are not the victims here, so my wondering is limited to how long it will take for them to face the consequences of their actions.


Have you ever considered that some people are just assholes? Because sometimes, there is not trauma to explain people acting this way. Sometimes, people are just assholes for no reason.

And even if the persons does have some past trauma, it’s certainly no excuse for acting out in this manner towards others. Ever.


Oh, I understand. I just would like the world to work towards a better place. So understanding the root cause of poor behavior, and how one might communicate to these people, is an interest of mine. I grant that these people would have to want to change for any intervention to be helpful. But I’ve found that making educational observations in response to outbursts (in the sense of bringing some small light to bear on the underlying causes) can lead to minor introspection.

Or at least the frequency of frustrated outbursts begins to wane due to them tiring of hearing my observations. Either way, the end result is I hear less Karen-like behavior, so it’s win-win. :stuck_out_tongue:

You know, that does actually run counter to my philosophy. I feel that there’s always something that’s caused us to be where we are. I think certain modalities are more prone in some individuals due to biological factors, certainly! Some are more disposed to anger, for example. But in my experience, there’s almost always some underlying story we tell ourselves (usually locked in when we were kids), that was helpful at the time… but which has subsequently grown to be a hindrance to our adult selves.

And it is that story that we run on a loop (I’m a failure, or I’m not good enough, or I’m too fat, or I’m unlovable, or I’m abandond, etc. etc. etc.) that ends up informing most of our automatic, emotional responses. [For those just lurking, did one of those make you catch your breath? It doesn’t have to be that way.]

Furthermore, since it’s a core frustration, we rarely realize that story is on a loop, and instead see it playing out in everyone around us. (They keep screwing up, they think they’re better than me, they’re looking at me funny, they’re only saying that because they want something, they’re going to leave me if I’m not perfect, etc. etc. etc.).

Protip for anyone following along: Next time you screw up, realllly look at the phrase you tell yourself if it starts with “I”. Byron’s The Work, linked above and free, can do wonders in bringing mindfulness to our thinking, and Nonviolent Communication can help avoid those stories from being triggered and causing a sudden emotional response during conversation.

Anyways, your theory may very well be a better fit to your experiences! And that’s OK too. :hugs:

In every moment of every day, we’re doing the best we can with the information we had available to us in the moment. Even the lady in this video! That was her best! We can only improve when we can acknowledge our best could be better, and (without judging our past, for we did try our best in a given moment) live into the selves we wish to be.


But sometimes it’s really really actually selfish entitlement and lack of consideration for others. Finding an excuse to feel wronged itself kind of becomes an addiction for plenty of privileged folk.


I’ll still maintain there’s an underlying story. Usually one they’re overcompensating with. Those that are self-entitled may be trying to overcome an inner monologue of how worthless they are, and thus projecting that story on everyone else (both degrading others in their view and raising their own relative worth). Lack of consideration, again, could stem from a perception of being unheard (thus requiring them to speak up for themselves, to be louder than those around them).

But, maybe my model doesn’t work for everyone. I’ll grant I don’t have the answers, but it’s worked well for me (and been true in those that have become more mindful and broken out of their old, habitual thoughts).

So, I’ll turn it around: In my worldview, there’s at least an approach to working with these people (and accepting them as they are). How does your hypothesis move society forward in a positive direction? Is there a different course of action that would be more fruitful in bringing about the change you desire in the world? (ostracizing them would be more satisfying in the short turn, haha, but I’m not sure it’s moving in the direction I’d classify as better, but again, we may have different metrics! And that’s OK.)

Edit: I have to run to physical therapy, but I’m enjoying the dialog. Delayed responses.


It is not my job to fix assholes. It allows me to be free from abuse from assholes who justify their abuse because of their painful experiences. It reminds me not to use my painful experiences to harm others. It reminds me that harm to me does not make me a person who needs to harm others. Affirming this reminds me that people who want to do better can and helps me and the people around me save themselves from wasting time and resources on abusive jerks who make life worse. It has made a measurable and objectively significant improvement in my life and the lives of people around me to stop feeling sorry for shitheads who show no desire to do the same for others. Probably as much or moreso than whatever motivates you to want to empathize with her or fix her so much.

On top of that, really I feel like singlehandedly moving society forward with my opinions is… an unrealistic expectation to put on myself in the first place.


Acting civilly and NOT being an insufferable dick to others is part of the social contract we all agree to by living within our society.

Anyone not wishing to abide by such minimal norms should vacate said society and go find a deserted island to inhabit.


Systemic white supremacy, for example.

(Am I surprised she was accosting a woman of color? Absolutely not.)


Yeah I mean there is basically a constant drumbeat of “these people are a threat” full blast 24/7 from vector of social information and identifies people of specific races as deserving of scorn and hatred, against a backdrop of a society that defines status by exception from discipline and displays of petty dominance. People can be angry for any damned reason, emotional, physiological, etc.

It seems pointless to me to say “until there is no one who is angry anymore we all must empathize with abusers more” though.

Beatings will continue until morale improves?


Thank you; I’ll be giving both a serious read.

(I’m… not a good communicator, and anything that helps me improve that aspect of me is welcome.)

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Of course it’s not your job to fix assholes, nor is it mine. I’m not advocating feeling sorry for anyone, and I have no motivation to fix her. Nothing I do can every force someone to change, I said from the outset individuals have to want to change. Investing in such is definitely a path to frustration. I can lead by example, and express an explicit non-support for loathsome activities by providing my more balanced perspective during an outburst.

Empathizing with individuals, though… I do feel the world needs more empathy. Take systemic racism, as @Alahmnat does later… the challenge being that individuals that were raised in that systemic culture may not even realize the injustice and the imbalances that exist. All they feel is fear at losing the securities that they have, rather than realizing that “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” And that emotional response drives their actions.

On this topic, I highly recommend people become familiar with Edward’s three phases of allyship: Ally for Self-Interest, Ally for Altruism, and Ally for Social Justice:

We start out recognizing that there’s bad in the world, and we only act to protect those we love. That may, or may not, graduate to wanting to make the world a better place… but the perspective is still “there’s bad in the world,” and that the individual is the “good guy” that’ll make it happen for the oppressed group (the stereotypical ‘Social Justice Warrior’).

True change occurs when we work with those who experience oppression, in collaboration
and partnership to end the system of oppression. When we recognize both the oppressor and the oppressed are shackled to the societal constraints, and both will be liberated once that system ends. They see expression of non-inclusive behavior as opportunities to grow, not as proof the other person is bad or evil.

Ok, so that was a bit of a tangent on the topic of systemic racism. But the principals, that we all have an opportunity to be an agent of change (whether it works or not) is still valid. At the end of the day, I’m accepting of what is: Some people are assholes!

The nuance being I accept their current status without giving up on their core humanity: Being an asshole doesn’t define them. For me, that perspective makes the world a better place (because I’m still surrounded by people trying to do their best on this tiny rock twirling about the sun), and it provides me a template with which I may evoke a positive shift in those around me.

Berating assholes will just further cement their perspectives, and ignoring an asshole is just silent support. I’m not saying I entangle myself with the outcome of how an asshole continues on in their life… but maybe there’s a way to improve the world by engaging in a more constructive fashion. I just offer a more measured response to their outburst that is based in (my) reality.

And, well, most of this was written from the perspective of a relative or coworker that you have to live with, not a one-time confrontation. Finding ways to move forward constructively become more important in those settings.

Like I said, if this mental model isn’t for you, so be it! You certainly got more hearts, so I guess that’s the way the wind blows in these parts. :hugs:


I really hope it helps! It’s been beneficial to everyone I recommended them to (if they read it :stuck_out_tongue: ).

Note that Katie Byron’s The Work has a religious bent to it (which I ignored), and I’ve recently become aware that some example scenarios in which she’s applied The Work is controversial. The original four questions (and the bonus “turnaround” question) are still extremely powerful tools, but you may not resonate with the book itself (which is why I linked to that article instead).

As a woman of color who is struggling just to keep my head above water in America, I have no desire nor inclination to ‘empathize’ with people who clearly see me as less than deserving of agency, respect and the exact same rights that they expect for themselves.


I think that a lot of it is just feedback loops. In other words; somebody acts like an asshole (probably at a young age) and gets what they want, which encourages them to act like an asshole more. They keep finding that asshole behavior works and so it becomes their modus operandi. They never question whether it is right, because of course they believe that they are in the right (who doesn’t), and are seldom if ever told otherwise.

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You certainly are welcome to feel and believe as you wish, but please spare me the lecture.


Spare the entire forum, too.


Ah. I apologize for using inclusive terminology when providing a synopsis of the research I presented. I did not mean to imply that what I was saying applied to you, personally. The ‘we’ was ‘humanity in general, or at least those involved in the studies that the author I linked to derived understandings from.’ Feel free to disregard what I’ve shared. I’ll disengage at this point.

Well, it’s my opportunity to practice what I preach, and take this as an opportunity to learn how I’ve mis-stepped! Thank you for speaking up.

In my conversational diversion, I had meant to be speaking to those that wish to be allies, not speaking to those that are oppressed. It’s a well-documented “tax” that those that are oppressed are expected to do all the effort in fixing the broken system, while also struggling to survive in that same system! That is not what I was attempting to communicate, and I apologize for not making that clear from the beginning.

This is the benefit of allies: Those that benefit from a system of oppression can use their position in that structure to help dismantle the same (in collaboration and partnership with those that are oppressed… it’s very important that this work not be done for the oppressed, but rather in support of). Allies can use their freedoms and liberties to end the imbalance. Those that are suffering from systemic oppression cannot be expected to be further burdened by the efforts to change the very system that seeks to deprive them of the resources to effect change!

I hope that I’ve conveyed this properly. To anyone reading, I ask that you understand that I am imperfect, and am attempting to share what I’ve learned with others in the hope that it improves the world. I ask that, if someone has a problem with what I’ve said, to read the source materials before responding: for those authors are more articulate than I.


Ah! I didn’t realize you were directing this at me. I realize that now, seeing that you liked Napkin’s rebuttal.

I did not intend to communicate that what I practiced was “better” than anyone else, or even “good,” but I can see that it came across that way. I tried to support and encourage other’s perspective. I’ve attempted to express interest in their frameworks and approaches. I had genuine intent to provide insight on topics that I am passionate about. I regret that this was all perceived as posturing.

I take your criticism to heart, and I apologize for taking the conversation down unproductive paths.

I’ll reflect on how better to communicate what I’ve learned. Thank you for providing your perspective on the dialog.


Here’s a good tip for people who want to be worthwhile allies:

Listen to marginalized and oppressed people, without tone policing us or telling us how we ‘should be’ fighting our own fights.

That’s always the first step…