“I am a woman, Mary. I can be as contrary as I choose.”
Ah, the Dowager Countess. When times get tough at Downton Abbey, we can always rely on Violet to deliver a bit of pithy wisdom or a one-line zinger. She is one of several strong women – stubborn, witty, formidable, and resilient characters – that the British television sensation Downton Abbey is known for. Set in early-20th-century England, the show follows the wealthy Crawley family and their household staff on their grand estate as they navigate a rapidly changing world.
To celebrate the 2019 release of the Downton Abbey feature film, we at 16Personalities wanted to see how some of the show’s characters stack up against our personality research. In honor of the Dowager Countess and all the strong women of Downton, it seemed only fitting to take on the topic of forceful personalities.
To explore how personality traits make some people more forceful than others, we asked our readers to agree or disagree with the statement, “You have been described as forceful or domineering.” Overall, 48% of readers agreed. But there were many large variations between individual personality types.
As a society, we tend to think of a forceful person as someone who is bold, firm, and effective – someone who gets things done. We might consider a domineering person to be slightly more extreme, someone who can be overbearing and controlling in their interactions with other people. As the women of Downton remind us, these qualities can be expressed in many different ways, depending on our personality traits. What’s more, a lack of forcefulness does not necessarily mean that an individual can’t be strong-willed or effective.
Let’s take a closer look at how this dynamic plays out among five of the Crawley women.
Spoiler Alert: We won’t give away anything about the movie in this article, but we do mention some specific details from the TV show as examples. If you haven’t watched all six seasons of Downton Abbey yet and want to avoid spoilers, you might want to come back to this article later.
Lady Mary: Commander of the House
In our survey, Analysts were by far the most likely Role to agree that they have been called forceful or domineering. That is mainly due to their shared Thinking personality trait. Thinking types overall were 32 percentage points more likely than Feeling types to agree (65% vs. 33%, respectively).
Rational and efficient, Thinking personalities have a way of pushing their own views, strategies, and goals, sometimes without regard for the feelings or sensitivities of others. As a result, they tend to be perceived as more domineering than other personalities. Commanders (ENTJ) agreed with our research statement at the highest rate of any personality type (78%). Downton Abbey provides a useful example of just this sort of commanding forcefulness.
Throughout the show’s six seasons, the fate of the Crawley family is in jeopardy, socially and financially. It’s a good thing the Crawleys have a Commander personality type in eldest daughter Mary, because she is more than willing to fight for Downton. In fact, Mary treats many things in her life like a battle: She engages in a bitter rivalry with her sister Edith. She resists any man her parents want her to consider marrying. And she struggles against the traditional role that society expects her to play as an aristocratic woman.
Commanders are charismatic, driven leaders. But they can have a reputation for being insensitive, relentless, and even ruthless in their determination to achieve their goals. At times, Mary can be all these things. She is independent-minded and motivated by her Intuitive vision for her own future. She also lets the rationality of her Thinking trait guide her, to the point that she can appear cold-hearted.
“Haven’t you heard? I don’t have a heart. Everyone knows that.”
Mary’s forceful personality often shows itself in the form of sarcastic, haughty, and mean-spirited remarks to others, especially Edith. She is not above using tactics like manipulation, intrigue, and sabotage to get what she wants. Mary likes arguing, and she loves to get the last word.
Edith: So he slipped the hook.
Mary: At least I’m not fishing with no bait.
Often, Mary’s hardness is a way of masking her insecurities. But when she chooses to use her strong will, persuasiveness, and determination for good, Mary is capable of accomplishing a great deal. We see this especially when she leads the efforts to keep Downton afloat financially. She is able to win people over – even if she hasn’t always treated them well – as she forges ahead to save Downton Abbey.
Violet and Isobel: Dueling Extraverts
Extraversion was another important factor in our study. Extraverts were 17 percentage points more likely than Introverts to say they’ve been called forceful or domineering (52% vs. 35%.) Extraverts are energized by their interactions with people and the world around them. Their visible liveliness and enthusiasm in social situations can make them seem quite forceful at times, especially to more reserved individuals.
Two of Downton Abbey’s feistiest Extraverts are friends and rivals Violet Crawley, the stately matriarch of the family, and Isobel Crawley, a distant relation by marriage. Violet and Isobel, an Executive (ESTJ) and a Protagonist (ENFJ), respectively, share a few key tendencies that can lend themselves to a forceful demeanor. They’re both perfectly willing to voice their opinions and take charge of a situation, and they both have a serious stubborn streak.
But, as we discuss below, the differences in their personality traits help shape their contrasting styles of forcefulness. They also fuel Violet and Isobel’s many spats, as these two can’t resist trying to one-up each other.
Violet: You are quite wonderful, the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal.
Isobel: I take that as a compliment.
Violet: I must’ve said it wrong.
Violet may not technically be in charge of Downton, but she is often running the show – as Executives usually try to do. These natural leaders tend to be firm and authoritative, so it’s not surprising that Executives (72%) were nearly as likely as Commanders to agree with our research statement.
A tried-and-true Sentinel, Violet is deeply invested in maintaining Downton’s traditions, honor, and legacy. As an Observant, Thinking personality type, she is direct and practical and doesn’t often show sympathy for what other people are experiencing.
Violet carries herself with a persnickety air that is usually disapproving and makes her seem quite intimidating. She rarely raises her voice, which would be beneath her dignity as the Dowager Countess. Instead, she usually expresses her forcefulness by way of withering glares, witty quips, and a seemingly endless supply of backhanded compliments and tart insults.
“When people get too chummy with me, I like to call them by the wrong name to let them know I don’t really care about them.”
Isobel, in contrast, is an Intuitive, Feeling Diplomat motivated by a fierce desire to stand up for what she believes in and make the world a better place. Empathetic and sincere, she doesn’t set out to steamroll other people. Nonetheless, she often does just that.
Isobel makes a positive difference in many ways. But she can get carried away with her own good intentions, which is not uncommon for idealistic Protagonist personalities. We see this repeatedly in her work at the hospital, when she lobbies for certain treatments or insists on running things her way. Isobel’s optimistic, can-do attitude is a form of forcefulness. So is her frequent lecturing. (Not to mention that indignant yet determined look she often gets in the midst of a disagreement with Violet.)
In our study, most Protagonists did not identify with being called forceful or domineering – only 45% agreed with our research statement. Still, they were the highest-agreeing personality types within the Diplomat Role. Isobel is an excellent example of what that loud minority of forceful (but well-meaning) Protagonists might look like.
Lady Sybil and Lady Edith: The Sensitive Introverts
Standing in stark contrast to Mary, Violet, and Isobel are the two Introverted Crawley sisters. Sybil is the Mediator (INFP) of the Crawley family, and Edith is the Adventurer (ISFP). With their shared Introverted and Feeling personality traits, Sybil and Edith are reserved, sensitive, and compassionate. In our survey, Mediators agreed at a notably low rate (26%) that they’ve been described as forceful or domineering. Adventurers (20%) were the least likely of all personality types to agree. The examples of Sybil and Edith can help us understand why.
“It’s the gloomy things that need our help. If everything in the garden is sunny, why meddle?”
Sybil, the youngest Crawley daughter, is soft-spoken, kind, idealistic, and free-spirited. Dedicated to helping others and doing good in the world, she shares many of the same values as Isobel, her fellow Intuitive Diplomat. But she does not try to force her beliefs on others the way Isobel often does. Sybil is anything but domineering. Just because she is not a forceful personality, however, doesn’t mean that she isn’t strong-willed or even rebellious.
When Sybil makes up her mind about something she truly believes in, she fully commits to it. That includes advocating for women’s rights, making bold fashion statements (like wearing pants), and marrying Downton’s working-class chauffeur, Tom – all to the shock and disapproval of her family. She doesn’t do these things for the sake of being a rebel, but because, as a Mediator, she lives by her principles and values. She is independent, yet she always manages to restore harmony in her relationships.
Edith, the middle child and Adventurer, doesn’t have a clear sense of direction for her life like her sisters do. That’s not uncommon among Explorer personality types. In the show’s early seasons, Edith seems to drift passively through life while a series of misfortunes happen to her, like being left at the altar on her wedding day. Her family frequently refers to her as “Poor Edith” – and even the servants feel sorry for her. As this suggests, Edith is far from a forceful individual, and she could learn to take a more active role in her own life.
“Edith, dear, you’re a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do!”
Edith is sensitive, kindhearted (except perhaps where Mary is concerned), and practical. But she struggles with her Prospecting tendency to act spontaneously without thinking about potential consequences. It takes her a long time to figure out what she’s interested in and where she belongs. She tries out many paths along the way, including charity work, farming, nursing, journalism, and three fiancés. Like a true Adventurer, she learns and grows from each experience.
In London, away from the expectations and judgment of her family, Edith finally finds the space and freedom she needs to flourish. She discovers her passion running a women’s magazine (against her family’s wishes), and she becomes a devoted mother and wife.
“I know now I need a purpose.”
Over time, Edith does become more confident, firing her disagreeable editor at the magazine and standing up to Mary at last. But by the end of the series, she’s still not a forceful or domineering personality. That’s just not her style. Edith is much more interested in doing her own thing her own way than she is in telling other people what to do.
What About the Assertive Personality Trait?
By now, you may be wondering what role the Assertive personality trait plays in all this. It might be tempting to assume that individuals with Assertive Identities would naturally be more forceful, domineering, or…well, assertive. But that’s not the case. Overall, our study revealed no significant difference between the Assertive and Turbulent personality traits (44% vs. 43% agreeing).
Identity influences how confident and comfortable we are in our abilities and decisions. Assertive personalities tend to be more self-confident than Turbulent personalities. But it’s important to remember that the Assertive trait is not equivalent to aggressiveness, arrogance, or other characteristics that might feed into a domineering demeanor.
Some individual personality types in our study demonstrated a larger gap between the Assertive and Turbulent variants. In every case, it was the Turbulent type that showed higher agreement. Turbulent Commanders, for instance, agreed with our research statement at a rate of 82%, compared to 75% for Assertive Commanders. Where Assertive individuals might be more self-assured or relaxed, their Turbulent counterparts might be driven by a stronger sense of perfectionism or intensity, giving them that slight edge toward forcefulness.
Ultimately, though, it’s highly likely that a Commander like Mary will be viewed by others as a forceful individual, whether they are Assertive or Turbulent. An Adventurer like Edith, on the other hand, is very unlikely to be described this way, regardless of their Identity trait.
Our research shows that two personality traits primarily influence whether an individual is likely to be perceived as forceful or domineering: the Thinking and Extraverted traits. But the five Downton Abbey characters that we’ve discussed in this article demonstrate that forcefulness can be expressed in surprisingly diverse, nuanced ways.
Mary may provide the most stereotypical example of a domineering Commander personality bending others to her will as she pursues her goals. (Although even Mary has a vulnerable, softer side.) Yet an idealistic Protagonist like Isobel, with her unique brand of optimistic forcefulness, can hold her own against a more traditional, stalwart Executive like Violet. Even more reserved Mediators and Adventurers like Sybil and Edith, while not forceful per se, can draw on their inner strength and willpower to effectively blaze their own trails in life.
What about you? Have you ever been called forceful or domineering? Do you have thoughts about other forceful Downton Abbey characters we didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments below!