In the era of “OK, Boomer” and millennial bashing, someone somewhere finally turned social media land’s attention to Karen. Of course, not every Karen is a Karen. Many (probably most) Karens are perfectly lovely people. Likewise, you don’t have to be Karen to “be a Karen.”
Sigh. This may get complicated.
But before you ask to speak to the manager, today, ladies, we’re going to have a good old-fashioned book burning.
Not the censorship kind.
I’m talking about one particular book that we all have sitting on a secret shelf. Nobody has ever read it. In fact, if you were to read it, your eyebrows would do that thing and you might mutter, “what a bitch” as you turned the pages.
The thing is, it’s a book you wrote, behind your own back. You wrote it in ALL CAPS. Each section ends with, “I have spoken.” Oh, Karen. No wonder you’re consumed by midlife rage.
The Worst Part of the Rule Book
It’s your rule book, and it’s making you crazy. No surprise, it’s no picnic for anyone else either. This book of rules and regs:
- Leaves you feeling pissy as you notice the constant stream of infractions.
- Prompts you to roll your eyes, scowl, and make other attractive faces - either for real or just on the inside.
- Robs you of joy in each present moment.
- Strips all the intimacy and fun out of your relationships.
- Nudges you to feel victimized by life in general, and specifically, by everyone you love.
C’mon. I can’t be the only owner of such a terrible tome.
Maybe you’ve already burnt yours. Or maybe you’re not sure you’ve got one - you don’t remember writing it, anyway.
What I’ve found is that even though I remember burning my first edition, it seems I wrote a second in my sleep. Stick with me, if you would, sister. Maybe you’ll discover that you’ve got one to throw onto the bonfire. If not, maybe you can help me cheer “Burn, baby, burn!” as the flames vaporize mine.
My Version of the “Be a Karen” Rule Book
It’s not very well written. But it’s exhaustive - gotta give it that. Oh, and the plot sucks because the ending is so predictable:
- Girl is ridiculously rigid.
- Someone comes close and tries to love her.
- She does her best to make that impossible by throwing darts at anyone who comes near.
- Girl mopes about how people suck.
- She isolates and buffers herself, becoming even more rigid in the process.
- Oh, and she (Karen… oh no, me!) asks to speak to the manager or writes a strongly-worded email to complain.
And around and around and around we go.
What kind of rules are scribbled in this book? So glad you asked.
Here’s a random selection of rules:
- #4: Don’t criticize me. I can criticize you, of course, but if you point out my flaws, it’s going to get ugly fast.
- #37: Put dishes in the dishwasher facing the right way (no, I’m not going to tell you which way) and in the proper rack. But only after rinsing them to a predetermined level of precision.
- #83: Don’t call me. Unless I secretly wish you would or you’re my child or parent or sibling (or sibling-in-law). Or, if you’re a client placing an order for my writing firm.
- #103: Never, ever interrupt me if I’m in the zone. By the way, when I’m in the zone, I look exactly like when I’m not in the zone. Good luck.
- #220: Don’t comment on the stuff I do while puttering around the house and yard. This puttering time is like meditation for me. But also, notice, admire, and praise what I did. You may also marvel at my ability to get so much done. That is acceptable.
- #554: Don’t look at your phone while we are together. Unless I am also looking at mine. But stop exactly when I stop.
- #998: You must love me in the exact way and intensity I want, and in the love language of my preference, all of which is subject to change at any time.
Any of these sound familiar to you?
If You Want to Be Happy for the Rest of Your Life and NOT Be Karen…
As with every improvement you want to make in you how you show up in the world, it all begins with an unflinching look in the mirror. Guaranteed, you’ve got a rule book.
Don’t believe me? Ask the people closest to you, “What “rules” do I expect people around me to live by so they don’t piss me off?” Then brace yourself. But after the shock wears off, take heart. Here are seven tips that may help you. (Still practicing these perspectives? I’m right there in the thick of it with you!)
Notice when you whip that rule book out.
What are some warning signs you can learn to recognize that’ll wake you up and make you realize you’re being a shrew? Do you roll your eyes? Sigh? Swear like a sailor? Slam doors? Go silent? We all have our ways. Identify the ways you communicate that, “We are not amused.”
Be honest as you assess whether going into rule book mode actually serves you - or anyone.
My guess is no. But it’s a determination only you can really make. Look at the results you’ve created. How intimate are your relationships? Do you enjoy being around your people? Do they seem to enjoy being around you? Or, do you sense that they’re walking on eggshells so as not to awaken your ire?
Understand this fact of life: We are all volunteers here.
At least as adults, every single relationship we have is on a volunteer basis. Even if you feel like you “have to” relate with someone, the real truth is that you are always at choice. Always. Those choices can be hard, of course, and none are without consequence. But nobody HAS to relate with anyone. That means nobody has to put up with you - and you don’t have to suffer through being in a relationship with anyone, either. Granted, we all make commitments - and others commit to us as well. But it’s still a choice to honor those commitments. (We can talk about this more later. It’s kind of a big deal.)
You are the owner of your life and feelings.
Nobody can “make” you feel anything. It’s always a matter of choice. That’s a tough one for lots of people to get at first because, “OH MY GOD, that person makes me feel so mad I could spit.” It can feel good to foist that blame onto someone else. But the reality is, it’s our thoughts creating our feelings. This isn’t some revolutionary idea; it’s pretty well covered by any decent personal development program, book, or speaker. It’s also really good news because if we own something, we get to decide what to do with it. Own your feelings and the fact you choose to feel them, and you now have the power to go a different direction with them.
Same deal with your life choices.
You don’t HAVE to do anything. Everything is a choice. Even whether you go to work, wash the laundry, or walk your dog. It’s all about choices. You don’t have to go to work. You could just not go. Sure, you’ll face consequences you might not like - like, getting fired and not being able to pay your bills. But the moment you reframe “having to” to “choosing to” you have more power. One big driving force behind Karens is a bitter resentment at feeling powerless. For most of us, it’s a super-rare instance where we’re in a situation most would call powerless. Even then, we still face a host of choices about how we’ll respond and what’s going on in our own heads and hearts.
It’s never too late to learn how to set boundaries.
This is oddly new territory for me, at least doing it right. I’m practicing! What I’ve discovered is that if I fail to set boundaries, I’m highly likely to kvetch about the results. It’s tied to people pleasing, and that’s a character flaw I’m working on. I’m digging Brooke Castillo’s podcast lately, and found this early gem you might also like. Make requests, not demands. It’s up to “them” to choose how they respond. Then it’s up to you to choose how to move forward.
Finally, mind your own business.
Seriously. In the wise words of Shrek, [we] are like onions. The more we peel the layers back, the more we find that stinks. However, the very act of peeling, smelling that stink, and choosing to be less stinky… that’s growth. We have enough to do working on ourselves that it will last a lifetime. (Grow or die!) Let other people do their own work. You can’t fix them, anyway. OK, someone even better than Shrek once mentioned taking care of the plank in our own eye before trying to remove a speck in someone else’s eye.
In the End…
It’s all up to you. You get one life. You got today, in fact.
If you want to create a life where you feel miserable, pissy, and Karen-like, own that desire. Be the best (er… worst?) Karen that ever Karened.
But if you want to live a life you love, growing close and healthy relationships that bless everyone involved, there is another choice. Burn the rule book. Decide to be okay with the perpetual nature of personal growth. Mind your own business. Choose who you are and how you’ll show up in the world. You have that power.