Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Psychology of Karen: How willful blindness and self-righteousness lead to crazy behaviors

In 2020, the name "Karen" became a pejorative, meaning a probably white woman acting in an extremely socially inappropriate manner. The name Karen is now the embodiment of "white entitledness" usually a white female in her 40's wearing a particular shorter haircut. (note: the male version is often named "Chad")

But Karen is real. Earlier in 2020, Amy Cooper was dubbed New York's "Central Park Karen" when she called the police and claimed a black man threatened her life. In reality, a bird-watcher (who happens to be black, also surnamed Cooper, no relations) asked her to leash her dog in a leash zone in Central Park. If not for him recording the encounter on his phone, "Karen" false accusations may have resulted in him going to jail. 

Many "Karen" tales appeared on in the various "TalesFrom______" subreddits where "a wild Karen appeared" usually preceded by "ahem!". "Karen" then starts making outrageous demands of another person with words such as, "you were moving inventory, you MUST work here! Why don't you serve me? Get off your lazy *** or I'll get you fired!" The story then diverges, but often involving either Karen physically attack the narrator for ignoring her, or summons a manager to deal with the "rude employee". "Karen" then started to embellish the story in her own retelling, claiming to have been attacked by the narrator. The ending may feature "Karen" getting her comeuppance at the hands of either security guard or police. 

Many of which are obviously fictional, but they are rather popular tales. They SOUND plausible. And in the case of Amy Cooper, they actually do exist.  All because Mr. Cooper asked her to leash her dog (that she was supposed to), Amy Cooper called the police to report that an "African American man" threatened her life. It was documented by her 911 call. When the story went viral, Amy Cooper was fired from her job and surrendered her dog, her life basically ruined.  

But what was she thinking? How could she justify her outrageous behavior, even go as far as making a false report to the police? And if a seemingly normal white person can do that... who else is capable of this? And how many other black people or other minorities have suffered from this sort of false reporting in the past? It is an extremely disturbing thought. 

To figure out what a "Karen" was thinking, we need to dive into the mind of a narcissist. 

First, I have to point out, I am NOT a psychologist or psychiatrist. I am a skeptic, and I try to understand the human mind and its biases. And the inability to see the truth is a bias. 

In psychology, the "dark triad" refers to the traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. 

Specifically, narcissism refers to grandiosity, pride, egotism, and lack of empathy. Machiavellianism is the manipulation and exploitation of others for self-interest without empathy or morality. Psychopathy is anti-social behavior, impulsivity, selfishness, unemotional traits, and remorselessness. (And yes, I did copy most of this from Wikipedia)

"Karen" feels entitled to service (narcissism) and due to either temporary or permanent psychopathy, refused to see her own mistake(s). When confronted by others, instead of self-reflect, her response was to counter-attack by any means available, including doubling down on her mistake, and making false reports to police, because she MUST win, even if she had to engage Machiavellianism by lying. 

Some psychologists have speculated that perhaps "Karen" knew she was a fraud inside, but she dare not let it show, and she must ruthlessly put down anyone that may potentially expose her "fraud" (whether real or lack of self-esteem). Thus anyone who challenged her authority (i.e. ignoring her "demands") must be "made to pay". When someone does challenge her worldview, she through willful blindness, must triumph at all costs and ignore every sign declaring that she had overstepped the law, not just social propriety. 

And in modern business, "squeaky wheel gets the grease". Often, such Karens are simply given some compensation to "go away", which only enables their behavioral problems.

Also keep in mind that narcissists are often vengeful people, who cannot let go and forgive, but would instead, use every means to gain revenge, including "I'll call corporate and get you all fired!" or as petty as leave bad online reviews. 


So what can one do when challenged by a "Karen"? 

Instead of confronting her slanted world view directly, i.e. "I don't work here!"  IMHO, you should engage her in questions that force her to confront her own view and how ridiculous it sounds. I think one of the Reddit stories used "why?" very effectively. The narrator simply answered every one of "Karen's" demands with "why?"  Hypothetically, "Karen" would be forced to "reason" within her own ridiculous logic. And if she wants to make a spectacle herself, all the better. 

The conversation would roughly go like this:

K: "Ahem!"

U: "What?"

K: "I've been waiting for you forever! Are you going to help me?"

U: "Why?"

K: "What do you mean why? You work here!"

U: "Why do you think I work here?"

K: "Because you helped him/her! Get off your lazy butt and help me!"

U: "Why should I help you?"

K: "Because it's your job!"

U: "Why do you think it's my job?"

and so on and so forth. 

Walking away does not help as it will usually lead Karen into escalating (probably physical attack) as Karens do not like to be ignored. 

Direct confrontation on the other hand challenges her worldview so deeply that she must counterattack at all costs, basically going nuclear. 

Should you encounter a "Karen in the wild", try the why responses. Maybe you will get a chance to put Karen in her place. 

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