Swimming metaphorically with the social jellyfish

I’ve picked up the concept of jellyfish from other bloggers, I think it’s a helpful term. It’s a label for those people who leave you feeling crap, and you can’t put a finger on why – the invisible sting that does so much damage and is impossible to challenge. Having been round this repeatedly, trying to figure out why I felt so useless, the notion has helped me make sense of a few things. Of late, I’ve been watching a few jellyfish (social media is incredibly helpful) to make sense of the mechanics.

The jellyfish presents as a lovely person. They’re always there to say something nice, something kind and supportive. This is a big part of why it seems so unthinkable that they’re hurting you, and so obvious that you’re the problem. However, the ‘compliments’ stand close attention. “You did far better than I thought you would, well done you!” “I’m really impressed by how well you’ve handled it, this time.” “You’re so much more confident.” “You look so much prettier when you smile.” “No,  you made it, and that’s what counts.”

The jellyfish compliment carries inside it the sting that they are surprised. You looked ok, you coped, you didn’t mess up, and the compliment depends on the idea that this is an achievement. This in turn suggests that the rest of the time, they don’t think that well of you. One or two of these will cheerfully slide off a person, and we all say things of this ilk by accident now and then, but with the most toxic jellyfish it can be constant, and if it isn’t intentional, it still doesn’t come from somewhere good.

What the jellyfish implies is their own superiority. They are very kindly, supportively, judging you, and giving you the verdict of their judgement. And you know, you did ok, you haven’t let them down, and you are to feel a little bit reassured about this. You are also to stay alert to the idea that they could easily find you lacking, and judge the other way.

Presenting as a lovely person is really important to the jellyfish. I think sometimes it is the entire motivation. The need to seem kind and lovely means that they’ll pile in to any situation or conversation and make nice-noises. Those noises may be empty, useless or even harmful – all that matters to them is their seeming to be lovely, and that other people will perceive them as lovely. They may be good at making empathising noises. If you let them in based on those noises, you can find that you are forever cast in the role of the loser, the leper. You have to be something a bit fragile and useless so that they can heroically put up with you and generously soothe you, and the further you go down this route, the worse it gets.

If something stings, it’s always important to figure out why. We can all be twitchy about things we find difficult. We can all over-react. But if you keep feeling stung, and diminished in the company of a person, it is worth stepping back and asking whether they are quite as lovely as they’d like you to believe. A persistent jellyfish can do a lot of harm, not least by making it so hard to believe they’re doing anything nasty at all. Feeling both hurt and ungrateful, the diminished person just keeps getting smaller. If you’re lucky, the jellyfish gets cocky, and does something more obvious, revealing what they really are, but it can take years for the true colours to show.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

11 responses to “Swimming metaphorically with the social jellyfish

  • bittysnitty

    You described my mother perfectly.That is why the only contact I have with her is a very short phone call on her birthday and mother’s day.I find I am much happier that way.

  • Ellas.Infinite.Realm

    Somehow I think 5 planets in retrograde is going to give you lots of fodder for blogging! What baffles me is how they, the jellys, come to a point in ego where they feel superior to everyone else…or is it some head game they play to entertain themselves to see if they can sling an arrow and us not notice? In any way, it is an energy attack and leaves it’s victims confused and weakened. Something tells me it has to do with how the person values life in general.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I have come to believe that the only reason one needs to feel superior, is the lingering fear that one may be inferior. If you no longer believe you are inferior, you have little need to actually have to impress anyone. In turn, a lot of this fear may be from us trying to be the person everyone else says that we are supposed to be, rather than simply being oneself as we are, and fearing that others may discover that we are faking it.

    I seem to remember an English TV series of a middle class lady who always was putting on airs of being higher class than she was, and usually looking foolish doing it, while her husband just was not in it. I don’t remember for sure, but I thought it was titled, something like “Keeping Up Appearances.” It does remind me of your jellyfish person however.

    • Nimue Brown

      That’s the series, yes, and I think you’re right, this certainly explains some of them.

      • Christopher Blackwell

        I have always loved English humor. One of the reasons that like Downton Abby, the Countess does humor so well, whether she is dishing it out, or is the target of it. Nice to see more older actors, who knew how to act and become their characters and Maggie Smith is grand. No wonder they could not let her die off. I am finishing off the second season of it and then have the third season to watch. Waiting for when they produce the fourth fifth and sixth season as a combo DVD set, like the first three sets of DVDs.

  • Kaylee

    The phrase that kept running through my mind as I read this was, “you did well, for a girl”. Those sorts of compliments.

  • jrose88

    Do you have any thoughts on what one might do to figure out if they are being an accidental jellyfish?

    • Nimue Brown

      That’s a very interesting question. It’s certainly something I’ve worried about, I’m not sure I have an answer. Not feeling able to be honest, maybe. Feeling obliged to say nice things to people you really want to slap down, feeling powerless may be part of it, or less powerful than the person you sting, and needing to feel more powerful than them. It may come from jealousy unacknowledged. A person cultured to jellyfish language could do it because they don’t really know how to give compliments, without having a sting in them – I guess for the person who has not been praised or treated kindly this would be a thing. If people bask in your words, you’re probably getting it right. But, hard to judge, and certainly it needs more thought. Thank you for raising this.

  • Let me tell you what you’re really like | Druid Life

    […] Misjudge, and an unsolicited compliment can be creepy, patronising, or even a put down. I’ve blogged about that here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/swimming-metaphorically-with-the-social-jellyfish/ […]

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