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Jelly Fishing

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Lesley McCall Autumn 2018

Have you ever been stung by a Jelly Fish?


When is a kindness not being kind? Sometimes what can appear to be a random act of kindness isn’t.

If you are not familiar with the term jelly fishing, then you have never read Bridget Jones Diary or seen the film- why ever not??? They are fun and the character of Bridget Jones, whilst charming, is so unstable she will make you feel very zen and sorted in comparison. Amongst all the other interesting terminology she creates one phrase that I think is pure genius: ‘jelly fishing’.

One scene in the book describes what a jelly fisher is perfectly. Bridget is sitting in a bar with her friends when a woman she knows comes up with a big smile fixed on her face. Now, this woman is a renowned jelly fisher, so poor Bridget is cringing before she has even opened her mouth.

‘Hello Bridget, daaaarling’, she shrieks, ‘What a lovely dress’.

Bridget relaxes a bit. ‘Thank you,’ she says.

‘So brave of you to wear it with your figure,’ gushes the women. ‘Got to dash, must catch up soon, ta ta, love you.’ Leaving Bridget stinging she swims gracefully away… the classic jelly fish.

Now this might not be the exact words in the scene, but you get the picture. A jelly fish is someone who seems soft and pliable on top but has a vicious sting underneath. They disguise an attack with friendly advice/an apparent compliment/by being kind and they leave you feeling frustrated and angry. There is nothing concrete you can complain about because they were being nice, weren’t they? So why are we left wanting to stick their heads down a toilet? Or feeling like they have just stuck our heads down a toilet? Because they are bullies, pure and simple.

So, you can breathe a sigh of relief and feel vindicated … it’s absolutely not you, it’s definitely them. This is a passive aggressive manipulation and whichever way you look at it, their intention is to make themselves feel better, even if it’s by making you feel worse. That is unkind, and you are entitled to feel angry. Its frustrating as well because we never seem to think of a snappy response until HOURS later, and then we brood on it, get angry, rehearse in our minds what we are going to say next time we see them … or is that just me? Oops.

All that energy, all that negative emotion, giving them exactly what they were looking for. So, step back and think ‘What’s all that about?’. Why would someone go to all the trouble to carefully jellyfish you instead of saying ‘You look fat and by the way I don’t like you na na na’? Why bother disguising it with kindness? Are they consciously trying to upset you or is it an unconscious way of shoring up their own insecurities? Well, unless I get them into my therapy room, I’m not sure I can tell the difference – and I’m betting that they can’t either.

Happy people are rarely unkind, they are too busy living their lives and finding things to enjoy. Bullies are mostly insecure, unhappy people, who are making other people feel bad to make themselves feel better, more powerful, more secure. At a guess, I would say jelly fishers are insecure and jealous, not overly filled with joy and love for mankind. Lashing out at people in a way that seems kind is maybe a way of making themselves feel superior without getting challenged because bullies are often cowards. If we look at the Bridget Jones example: there was Bridget having fun with a group of people who loved her and going out with Colin Firth …what’s not to be jealous of??

However, understanding where it all comes from whilst helpful, doesn’t always help you deal with a jelly fisher. You could confront them, but they will probably deny it, you could get angry but that gives them the perfect opportunity to play the victim… so what to do? How to deflect without being nasty? Because being nasty doesn’t work, it just reinforces their insecurity and bitterness. So here are some ideas on how to stop it in its tracks!

My friend, Trevor Silvester, calls this a ‘stroking your beard moment’. When faced with what is obviously someone else’s issue, you look reflective and stoke your beard whilst saying ‘ummm’. Obviously, there is one problem for us beardless women, but it does work a treat. It is not quite what the jelly fisher expects or wants but it’s not an aggressive response. If asked what you mean, then smile and just say nothing. If they persist in making jelly fish comments, simply say ‘interesting’ and smile again. Trust me when I say they will be, at the least, unnerved.

There are several variations on this theme, including asking questions instead of reacting. For example, ‘You are brave to wear that dress…’, you say… ‘Why do you say that? That’s an interesting thing to say’. This is facing up to them in an unconfrontational way if you say it with a smile. There is no response they can give and puts them firmly in the wrong, even if it’s unacknowledged. You win and you both know it.

You could always just laugh. It’s a simple way to defuse the situation and have some fun at the same time. Whatever they say, laugh loudly, as if it’s the best joke in the world.

Respond with over the top kindness, pretending you didn’t hear or understand the underlying nastiness. Say ‘Thank you, you are a daaaarling. You say the sweetest things!’ Again, with a big smile or even an enormous hug. Once again, you will unnerve them and are refusing to participate in their games.

In many ways, avoiding getting stung is like the scene in Finding Nemo (and please don’t tell me you have never seen that either because I will be forced to ask where on earth you have BEEN for the last few decades!!) You know, the scene where they have to get through a sea of jelly fish, so they bounce on top of the jelly fish and avoid their sting. Bouncing along, having fun, not letting the stings touch you. That’s the way.

You cannot control people or the way they behave. You cannot ‘rescue’ people. You cannot control what other people do or say. However, you can control how you respond. When faced with a jelly fisher you could start a fight or shout, but what does that achieve? What does that show the person you are shouting at? What does that teach them?

Instead, have fun, you take control of the situation and refuse to be drawn in, refuse to respond in kind. Be the bigger person, surprise them with kindness or laughter and just maybe you will teach them to be kinder.