The Quips of Violet Crawley

Joel Mag live

Joe No Mag liveBy: Joel Christie & Joseph Noecker

On the highly successful Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith plays the indomitable Violet Crawley, the Countess of Grantham. Known for her often scathing wit and old fashioned sensibilities, Violet, aka "Granny," is an immensely enjoyable character who exudes self-confidence, communicating her opinions and values with unashamed candor. Here are a few quotes from Violet, used as a backdrop to explore some concepts of mental health as she banters with Isobel Crawley, who she has reluctantly accepted as her confidant.

Violet: "Hope is a tease designed to prevent us accepting reality."
Isobel: "You only say that to sound clever."
Violet: "I know. You should try it."
Joel Christie's mental health insight: I love Violet's non-defensive posture here. Isobel calls her out for saying something she believes to be empty and needlessly gloomy. Rather than growing defensive or trying to explain why Isobel is mistaken, Violet takes ownership of what she said, enjoying her own ability to display wit if she so chooses, a great example of self-acceptance.
Joseph Noecker's mental health insight: Violet takes the opportunity to embrace ownership of her insecurities, thereby simultaneously reducing the power of their nature. It takes courage to self-expose a characteristic of which we are not so proud. However, as well Violet may be self-revealing an unwillingness to grow beyond this state by appearing to take some pride in her statement. Ego has a sneaky way to block our "authentic" growth.

Isobel: "How you hate to be wrong."
Violet: "I wouldn't know. I'm not familiar with the sensation."
Joseph Noecker's mental health insight: While Isobel states an obvious observation of the ego in all of us, Violet takes the statement further that indicates either an absence of separation between her ego and higher self – or a potential celebration of her conscious choice to live in the world of the limited view of the ego. Living in the land of ego can be quite satisfying in the moment but it never sustains. The hunger for "more" or the "best" or "smartest" rages on for a lifetime while living in this state. Of course, Violet also may slyly be making fun of herself. I find her quotes so enticing because of the inherent mystery of the meaning or perhaps dual meanings behind her quips.
Joel Christie's mental health insight: In refusing to ever allow Isobel to gain the upper hand, Violet is being a bit disingenuous here. We all know what it feels like to be wrong from time to time, unless of course we are dangerously disconnected from reality, which Countess Grantham certainly isn't. So why the front? I think in this case, Violet is simply reinforcing an old pattern that has existed between herself and Isobel for as long as they have known each other. Violet, the grand Countess, has a lot of her self-worth tied up in her important title, and a countess can't be shown to be wrong, can she? Her self-worth is threatened by the notion that she has made a mistake, which is unfortunate since mistakes are a common, normal, and even healthy part of life, providing us with the opportunity to grow.

Violet: "Why the lamentation? You don't have to see him if you don't want."
Isobel: "You make it sound so easy."
Violet: "There's nothing simpler than avoiding people you don't like. Avoiding one's friends—that's the real test."
Joseph Noecker's mental health insight: Violet seems to be demonstrating a self-honest gesture in owning her feelings regarding others here while taking honest ownership of the stance that even friends can be excluded at times. We are exposed to her ability to access what she feels and her courage to express even when outside opinion may not support her views. Though I sense a potential disparity in her ability to access authentic feeling and actions as she distinguishes between strangers and friends. Violet is such a wonderful representation of our own inner struggles between authentic, honest interaction, empathy and feelings for others, and perceived societal expectations regarding relationships.
Joel Christie's mental health insight: Violet seems to be more comfortable setting boundaries than Isobel, apparently feeling little obligation or social pressure to spend time with people she doesn't like. She acknowledges that it is more difficult with friends, however, which raises an important mental health issue, since creating boundaries with the people we do like can be just as important or more so. Should I head to Vegas with all my buddies if I have a gambling addiction? Probably not. Being comfortable setting boundaries is a vital part of establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, something that Violet seems to understand quite well.

Violet: "Principles are like prayers. Noble of course. But awkward at a party."
Joseph Noecker's mental health insight: Violet speaks some straight talk here. She displays in one brief comment that many things about life have virtue but to the Ego and persona, remaining true to their value in all situations is at the very least, difficult and awkward. There is an underlying message conveyed here that "what others think" trumps all in most cases. This reflects an underlying insecurity dependent upon external validation for one to feel good about self.
Joel Christie's mental health insight: In mentioning the party/ social setting, Violet seems to reveal that the opinions of others are powerful forces in determining what she should or should not do in a given situation (which is certainly true for many of us). Yet there is a conflict here as well, since Violent seems to feel one's principles are indeed important, it's just that they become subservient if they might cause awkwardness. It's possible in the long run this dynamic could damage self-esteem, since avoiding social discomfort becomes more important than adhering to my own principles. In other words, it could leave me doubting I have the strength to stick up for what I believe in.

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