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.