Sometimes the delineation between being a narcissistic abuser and having been a victim of narcissistic abuse is not very clear. A famous example is Betty Broderick, the jilted wife who broke into the home of her ex-husband, Dan Broderick, and his new wife, Linda Kolkena, and shot them both to death as they slept.
The entire story is documented in Bella Stumbo’s excellent true crime book, Until The Twelfth of Never, which I read a number of years ago. The story of this tragedy haunted me for weeks, but Dan’s treatment of Betty prior to the murders haunted me even more. In fact, it downright bugged the bejeezus out of me.
Betty was eventually prosecuted and her appeal for parole was denied. She will probably spend the rest of her life in prison.
Did Betty murder in cold blood? Absolutely. Did she ever admit guilt or show any remorse for her actions? No, she did not. Was she manipulative and did she show self-centered behaviors? Yes. Did she use her children as pawns in her one-woman crusade against her cheating ex husband? Again, yes. Was the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder she was given by the prosecuting psychiatrist correct? Very likely. (She was also diagnosed with Histrionic Personality Disorder).
I’m not defending what Betty Broderick did. She is a pre-meditated murderer who killed in cold blood as her victims slept and showed no remorse for her crime. She used her children as pawns against her ex in their hostile, drawn out divorce, not thinking or seeming to care about their needs, only her own. Two of her four children don’t speak to her and one has written a book against her and testified against her in court.
But even taking all this into account, I always had a huge problem not seeing Betty as the real victim, in spite of her heinous crime. From their marriage in 1969 until 1983, when her husband’s affair (which he had lied to her about) came out in the open (and the shit hit the proverbial fan), Betty was by all accounts a loyal and faithful wife, very much bound by her strict Catholic religious upbringing (and probably, how she appeared to others). She was a typical 1950s-early 1960s-style housewife, whose main interests in life seemed to be marriage and family. She wasn’t a go-getting feminist or a a dissatisfied wife who longed for a career or an outside life; she was perfectly happy taking care of the house and playing second fiddle to her successful attorney husband Dan (who had both a law and medical degree), proud of being seen with him at the many functions he attended, and dutifully raising four children (a fifth one died shortly after birth). If she really had NPD, perhaps much of this was for show or to be well regarded in the community, but Stumbo’s true-crime book described a woman who, if anything, was doing everything she thought she had to do to be a good wife and mother, who never cheated on her husband or showed any interest in expanding her interests outside their family. Granted, she was never easy to live with, and could be very demanding, needy, and high maintenance, but I wouldn’t say she was malignant, at least not in the beginning. If she was a narcissist, she was a covert one with a lot of borderline traits.
I think it was her husband who was a much more grandiose and obvious (if not more malignant) narcissist. He was charming, overly concerned with his image and status, wildly successful, cold and unfeeling to his wife and children, and seemed to lack any empathy for his wife’s many emotional needs. She did seem to be the more emotionally unstable of the two of them, but such is often the case with the partner who is being victimized–especially if the abuser has flying monkeys (and Dan had a whole community of them due to his power and reputation).
When Betty was in her 40s, she had gained some weight (as many women do around that age) and Dan began to show how little he valued his wife and their marriage, now that she was no longer young and beautiful. He started an affair with an attractive young woman in his office named Linda Kolkena, who he promoted to his personal assistant. He spent less and less time at home and even took his new assistant on vacation (saying it was a business trip). Betty suspected something was going on and asked Dan about it. He lied to her and said there was nothing and she was imagining things (sound familiar)? Eventually the truth could no longer be hidden and he admitted he’d been having an affair with Linda all along. But it didn’t stop there. He also told Betty he had fallen in love with Linda and wanted to marry her, and told Betty coldly that he wanted a divorce. Shortly after he left her, Linda fell pregnant. They flaunted their happiness cruelly in front of Betty, who always had self esteem issues.
The divorce was drawn out, dramatic, and ugly. Betty became increasingly deranged, and showed stalking behaviors and began to involve her children in her one-woman crusade against her cheating ex. But Dan and Linda also ganged up against Linda and made fun of her, leaving abusive messages where they could be heard laughing together and making fun of Betty’s age, weight and intelligence. Such a thing would certainly make ME see red! For Betty, an insecure woman whose entire identity had been tied up with being Dan Broderick’s wife and the mother of his children, his cruel and malicious behavior must have been unbearable and something eventually snapped.
Dan was able to convince everyone that Betty was insane–not to mention fat, stupid and old. He was expert in gaslighting and triangulation, turning most of their friends and even their own children against her.
What Betty did was wrong. There’s no way around that. She was spiteful, manipulative, and completely out of control. She lied in court. She didn’t seem to have much, if any, empathy for their children (by that point, I would completely understand if she had no empathy for her ex and his new wife, given their shabby treatment of her during the divorce proceedings).
But I wonder how much she may have been driven to act as she did. Dan seemed cold-hearted and emotionless from the get-go, almost psychopathic. For 14 years, Betty put up with this b*stard and obediently played the role of the trophy wife that he wanted. When she was too old, he unceremoniously dumped her for another woman.
In my opinion, Betty Broderick was a victim of narcissistic abuse who was driven to become a narcissist. Even if she was already a narcissist, I don’t think she was malignant or that she would have gone to the extremes that she did on that horrible day in 1983 had she not been driven to to the brink of insanity by her arrogant, compassionless, egotistical cheater of a husband.
This case has always fascinated me, in part because I think so much was brushed under the rug during the divorce proceedings and the trial. I always felt a bit of sympathy for her, in spite of her horrible crime. Here’s another article I found in defense of Betty Broderick. Betty was certainly no angel, but I don’t think Dan Broderick was as good a guy as the press and popular media liked to make him out to be–not even close.