What used to be a popular girl’s name has now become an internet meme. The name Karen is used on social media to describe a white woman who thinks she’s entitled to anything she wants and will call the manager or the cops to get it. Often described as the “lady who wants to speak to the manager”, more recently Karens have been caught on camera threatening to call the police on minorities, escalating the drama and risking their lives. She wants to see the look of fear on their faces as she dials 911 to summon her flying monkeys.
If only victims of narcissistic abuse had a meme that could communicate what it’s like to live with a narcissist. Oh wait, we do. It’s Karen. A meme like “Karen” is an effective way to communicating an idea. The “Karen” meme is particularly effective because it’s coupled with a video of Karen behavior. Unfortunately, if you aren’t familiar with narcissism you might not realize that Karens aren’t exclusively white women. Malignant narcissists can be any gender and any color.
Labels and memes help us see patterns. The problem with the Karen meme is that unaware people may be focusing on the wrong patterns. This label, Karen, a white woman’s name that was popular in the 50’s and 60’s might lead a viewer to perceive the problem as racism when in fact, it’s actually narcissism.
There are two telling traits of narcissism that are common in all the videos of Karens. First, the women are bullying people whom they believe can’t fight back: children and people of color. Secondly, they invoke the power of a higher authority to force their victims to submit to their will. That’s classic narcissism. All narcissists do this in a plethora of ways.
Narcissists are drawn to power.
Because the police, with their guns, badges and uniforms, are a universal symbol for authority and power, the narcissist is naturally drawn to manipulating police officers. The Karens in the videos wield their cell phones as they call 911 to rescue them from the victim who makes them feel powerless and must be stopped. It’s almost funny because you can imagine that this infantile perspective was formed during their childhood when they’d go screaming to their parents, falsely tattling on their siblings or classmates.
Narcissists love to call the authorities to do their dirty work.
Some people might think the Karens are relying on their “white privilege” to get the cops on their side. Although narcissists do use every prop available to manipulate other peoples’ preconceptions, being white is not the basis for the entire manipulation. Narcissists just really love to manipulate. Manipulating is how they mainline power. A successful manipulative performance is what gives them the greatest high. When Karen calls 911 she’s getting ready to audition for role of the helpless victim. She’s supremely confident that the authorities will feel sorry for her because she’s adept at manipulating emotions. She knows most people can’t imagine how manipulative she’s willing to be. She doesn’t even have to be rational if she can manipulate the emotions of her flying monkeys.
Not all Karens depend on impromptu performances. Some prepare for years in advance.
My ex-psychopath is a Karen. He finds corrupt police officers in as many jurisdictions as possible, bonds with them through sex and criminal activity and keeps them in his pocket for when he needs to exert power over a victim. When I moved to another city, he found another angle: he called the suicide helpline and told them to send the police to my house. From the phone records I noted that he kept the suicide help line on the phone for several hours. No doubt crying his heart out, until he convinced them to send the cops. That was his way of sending the message that he could still use the police against me. A few weeks later, he had flying monkeys from the police in my city actually arrest me.
Another one of his victims got tired of giving him money. As punishment, Psychopath sent the police on a sting to the victim’s family restaurant at 2 AM. He kept his tired victim distracted so the cops could entrap him into serving an underage person liquor. The victim’s liquor license was suspended. A narcissist will not be denied the sacrificial offerings he demands.
Karens know they can summon the power of life and death from a cell phone. A Karen who is feeling low can get high by finding a sacrificial lamb and a priest to do the sacrificial rites on the narcissists alter. Once they’ve targeted a scapegoat, they will call the authorities to rain fire and brimstone on their victim.
A Direct Line to Authority
There are numerous ways that a narcissist attaches themselves to authorities to feel powerful. You might know a person who takes great pleasure in reporting others for minor infractions, like expired tabs, parking violations, selling water without a permit and jay-walking. They will tattle to your boss when you make a minor mistake. One narcissist I know just married a police officer thinking she’d always have him at her beck and call – then she found out he was a bigger psychopath than she was. Other narcissists have impersonated police officers. In short, you can recognize a narcissist because they invoke a power that isn’t theirs.
Although a narcissist is attracted to authority, they also can’t bear to submit to any authority. One un-submissive psychopath I knew, flew out of his room in a rage one day. He was trying to purchase something online but the button to complete the purchase said, “SUBMIT”. Convinced that the submit button was a diabolical plan to habituate him into submitting, he just couldn’t bring himself to click on it. I offered to push the button for him.
The same un-submissive psychopath once declared, “People should care for me but I shouldn’t have to care about others.” Recently we’ve seen the Karen who couldn’t submit to wearing a mask at a Starbucks. She had other options for purchasing her coffee, such as the drive through, but she went inside demanding accommodations. It’s against the Karens’ moral code to make sacrifices to protect others. Wearing a mask protects others more than it protects the wearer and Starbucks Karen was offended by the very idea . Karens demand to be exempted from caring about others.
Karens hide who they are, most of the time. My ex-psychopath pretended he didn’t know any cops at all. Like a Clint Eastwood character, he portrayed himself as a lone wolf, someone who didn’t need anyone to protect him. One day we were talking about my brother-in-law, the cop who, unbeknownst to me, Psychopath had sent to marry my sister.
I said, “ You know, B-I-L is a coward, that’s why he had to join the police force. He has no power of his own, so he can only feel powerful when he’s backed up by an entire police force. He’s not like you, you have your own power and authority.”
Psychopath agreed, “Yeah, that’s true, “ he said.
It turned out that Psychopath was a Karen and he’d been wearing a mask for 25 years. It just goes to show, that Karens will wear a mask if there’s something in it for them.
Why Karens are Dangerous
Contact with law enforcement can become a runaway train. Once a Karen has duped a flying monkey into rallying to her defense, it’s difficult for the flying monkey to admit they were wrong. It’s human nature to double down when you believed you were protecting the innocent. More damage has been done by legions of flying monkeys than could possibly be done by a lone Karen. Karens are careful to keep their hands clean. They’ll make the call, put the wheels in motion, then run behind the scene, while they revel in their power.
When we talk about police reform, we need to include education about narcissistic manipulation. Other social services such as the suicide prevention and mental health call centers should also train their workers on recognizing when they are being used as a tool to harass a psychopath’s victim. Anyone who has lived with a psychopath knows that increased education about narcissism is the single best option for de-escalating and defusing their violence. Next time you upload or like a video of a “Karen” to social media, don’t forget to comment or hashtag the word “narcissist”. It’s a much better description.