Recently my sister Becky and I were listening to an animated story from a 10 year old boy who explained to us that “girls on the playground can be real Karen’s.”

We did not understand and asked, “What is a Karen?” Using air quotes he told us that a “Karen” was a girl that who was not so nice. He further educated us to this term “Karen’s” by showing us some very entertaining YouTube videos of “Karen’s” caught on camera.

Being a curious person by nature I explored it and was further informed that a “Karen” is a pejorative term for a seemingly entitled woman who is demanding beyond the scope of what is normal. (The male version of “Karen” has many names, like “Chad”, “Greg”, or “Ken.”)

The next day my sister and I went to the grocery store. She waited in the truck for me to run in real quick. When I came out of the store I hopped in and exclaimed, “I just had my first Karen encounter!” We both laughed and I told her how I had went to the restroom and as I was exiting the back handicapped stall there was a lady was washing your hands in the sink. As I walked by her, I heard her growl, “Disgusting!” I looked back at her and said “I know.” —because I thought she was talking about the messy state of the bathroom. She set me straight quick! Vehemently saying… “No. YOU are disgusting.” My head snapped. I was like… What?! Why would she call me disgusting? I didn’t need to ask. Because, you see, a “Karen” will tell you! True to form in 1.2 seconds she spewed “you didn’t wash her hands.”

My first instinct was to explain to the lady that the handicap stalls DO have sinks in the bathroom and even a mirror.  But instead I just said, “Thank you Karen” and walked away.

Keep in mind that I am my mother’s daughter and she stepped on that Emmy Lou Hale bloodline. Her quick ill judgment and rude attitude towards me started to stir me up and I wanted to engage her. In fact, even after I walked away I found myself wanting to walk back.

In truth, if I would have had time I may have. But one thing we can know about these Karen’s—they don’t play well with others. In fact, they are agitated strangers that make judgment calls about you and your decisions.

A psychological principle at play is that there are those people just looking to pick a fight. And you can’t win a fight with a Karen. Because it takes venom and vehemence to be that mean and angry.

I do not know where this term originated. But, I would like to note that some of the kindest and most compassionate people I know are named Karen. One such Karen is my coworker and she is one of my closest friends. In sum, if you encounter a mean “Karen” I recommend that you just smile and walk away with your personal integrity. Innocence needs no defense. Some people just want to be angry and judgmental. Their aggressive statements are baiting you—trying to get you to respond. I do not want another’s critical and angry spirit affect me. So just say “bless your heart” as they do in the south, or simply walk away. I walked away but my heart rate stayed up for quite some time. In all truth it really bothered me. But it is your choice. You can choose to take the energy to explain yourself. But these “Karen’s” are not the listening types—they just want to spar with you. So save your energy for the real things and real people that matter and do not let a stranger hijack your joy.

– Dr. Kelly Bushéy