Was Betty Broderick really a victim of narcissistic abuse?

Dan and Betty Broderick at their wedding, 1969

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).

Dan Broderick and Linda Kolkena, circa 1983

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 Betty and made fun of her, leaving abusive phone 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).

Betty Broderick during the trial.

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.

Betty Broderick: Victim or Victimizer

42 thoughts on “Was Betty Broderick really a victim of narcissistic abuse?

    • I saw the movie and it was Meredith Baxter Birney. She did a good job playing Betty.

      I read the book a long time ago, long before I knew about narcissism or narcissistic abuse. (Of course I’d been experiencing it firsthand myself all my life). I’m tempted to read the book again now armed with all the information I have, the same way you are. It’s interesting because she probably was a narcissist but at the same time was victimized by her even more narcissistic husband (my opinion). Now I understand why the whole case bugged me so much.

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  1. I watched the lifetime movies on this too. Meredith was perfect for the role I know! I feel she was driven to it… and also that some women do “snap” (men do too, they become stalkers/obsessed) it comes from entitlement and indeed she was entitled! being the wife and mother of his kids she is entitled! so there is a snap thing that goes with entitlement… for some people it just never quits.. as thatd have to be a self sacrifice.. and to give up entitlements… and to say “its ok” what he did , ill be “bigger” etc is a choice! not a requirement and it doesn’t sit well with many people…so many of us are doormats and trained to be the “bigger person” and always its ok.. revenge and hate and jealousy etc are wasted and we have to move on and all that.. but that’s STILL work where you have to turn pain inwards.. the other person seems to get off scott free..and even tauntingly so…theyre happy and joyful together..laughing and making love and even starting a family.. and you are NOTHING>.you are discarded… and have to somehow be bigger …I don’t know… so many women go through it and it changes them in other ways.. even if theyre not bitter or revengeful they are crumbled and damaged otherwise.. a wiman does have a right I feel to put her whole self into a family and make it her identity.. a man TAKES that from you KNOWING YOU DID THAT..he could have at least been gentle about that.., some men RESENT women who are old fashioned and make them their lives.. when truthfully there is nothing wrong with doing that! its the damaged men who cant handle it or speak up and say hey that’s not my style..from the beginning..this is why now all daughters are raised being constantly told NOT to do this and never make a man your life and have a back up plan and men say they cant find old fashioned women anymore and they are all feminists. you cant win…they do punish you for that as well..

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    • What I’ll never understand is why she didn’t just leave him before any of that happened (he was already treating her badly). Or at least just put up a good fight and kept her dignity. She could have kept her pride and stayed out of prison. She was young enough she probably could have found someone else or found some career she wanted to do. But I guess someone like her who didn’t really have an identity of her own couldn’t do that. To this day, she still rails on about them as if they are still alive and still the same age they were in 1989. It’s very sad. You can bet though, that if they had not been killed, Linda would have suffered the same fate as Betty–about ten years ago, since she’d be into her 50’s by now. Betty should have just realized they both deserved each other and went on about her merry way, but her own narcissism wouldn’t let her do that.

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  2. I saw the documentary on it. It was well done. I see her as being a victim who snapped. Her life was destroyed and she was made fun of over it, horrible, but could she have moved away and started a new life instead of resorting to what she did? Did she have the means to do that with? How does her family of origin feel about all of it? That I wonder.

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    • I think she snapped. She should have taken the kids and left, but I guess because her whole identity was tied up with his she couldn’t see beyond that. It’s sad because she was obviously an intelligent woman but completely wasted it and then destroyed not only two lives but then her own too. She will probably die in prison because she’s too proud to just say she’s sorry for what she did.

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      • According to that documentary, Betty’s kids had taken to their “new” mom and it was like she lost them too to her. I agree, making an apology, seeing where she went wrong would help because she had no right to take their lives. I wonder if Betty was even in treatment, if not, that would have been another thing she could have done. Did she even have one friend to talk to?


  3. I remember seeing the movie years ago and feeling bad for Betty. Although, like you said, what she did was horrible and inexcusable.

    As I recall, the movie was deliberately written and played in such a way that you were supposed to feel bad for Betty. I wonder if the script writer was a woman whose husband had dumped her for a younger, prettier woman?

    A lot of what you have written here parallels the dynamics between my own parents. While my extremely malignant mother was by far the worst abuser to me, my dad actually scores higher than she does on those “is your parent a narcissist” tests. My mother is more of a covert narc, my dad’s narcissism was much more overt.

    Throughout most of their marriage, my dad was frequently emotionally abusive to my mother. He would rage, yell, scream, name call, throw things, and threaten bodily harm over the smallest things. When his rages happened while he was driving, he drove like a man possessed, squealing the tires and threatening the lives of everyone on the road.

    One night when I was 12 years old, my dad flipped out and came so close to murdering my mother that I thought she was dead. He was arrested, then put in a psych ward. With no money coming in, our house went into foreclosure, our only car was taken, and we ran completely out of food. We got on welfare then and and went to live in a house that my grandparents owned.

    That winter my traumatized mother, who had been left with five children, four of whom were preschoolers, went into such a terrible depression that she tried to gas us all to death.

    Like Betty Broderick, what my mother did was horrible and inexcusable. But it all started with my dad’s verbal and physical abuse.

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    • Wow. Your dad sounds more like a off the rails borderline with a lot of N traits–no control at all, with a drinking problem to boot. Your mom does sound like a victim but more dangerous overall. There are some parallels to the Broderick marriage, except your dad was very out of control and near-crazed–Dan Broderick was very calm, cool and collected, and cruel all at once. Betty seemed like the crazier one, but of course she was the one who wound up murdering someone — just like your mom tried to murder all of you. Both sound like they snapped, though. Not that there’s ever any excuse for doing anything like that. You could always just leave instead.

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  4. By the way, I find it interesting and a little alarming that you wrote this post just a day or two after the post about the dream you had of your ex getting involved with a much younger woman. Is there a connection?? I know you would never do what Betty did, though!!

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        • I can’t believe you would have thought that! I admit it hurt my feelings a little! But looking at it from your perspective, I suppose I could see why it would have crossed your mind. I certainly hope you wouldn’t REALLY think I’d ever do such a crazy thing though. As for my ex? If she was a nice person I’d warn her about him–if she wasn’t a nice person, I’d shrug and tell myself they deserve each other. Frankly, I don’t care.

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          • No no no, I am so sorry, that is NOT what I meant. Like I said in my earlier comment, I KNOW that you would never do that!! What I mean is, that I thought you might have had those feelings because of your dream. There is a HUGE difference between feeling something and actually doing it!! I am so sorry!!!

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            • Oh, I see. No, I have no idea why I had that silly dream since I don’t even care and to be honest, he’s such a bum and looks so bad these days I doubt anyone would date him anyway. Besides, he never goes out.

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            • Ok. I understand now. I just thought maybe your dream had you thinking that if he did that in real life, you would be furious about it, like Broderick was, but you for sure would not do what she did.

              When my first husband knocked me unconscious in front of our two year old son, I came to and my son was crying Mommy mommy, and his dad was gone, he had taken off in our only car, leaving me unconscious on the floor with our child! — oh yes, I wanted to kill him. I really really did feel like that. But instead, I packed up and bought a cheap car and found a job and a cheap trailer to rent and I was out of there with my child in just two days.

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            • LOL @ me being furious. Now if I was still with him or still in love with him I might feel differently, but any loving feelings I once had ended a long time ago. I don’t hate him– I’m indifferent.

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          • Today was a little rough for me, I saw my Dr this afternoon about my recent shoulder MRI. There is a tear, and a very large bone spur, and a large cyst, in my right shoulder. I am going to see an orthopedic surgeon soon. And I am nervous. So if I am not thinking very clearly, perhaps that is why? That, plus thinking about how crazy my parents both were. I guess I am feeling triggered right now. I have had life threatening reactions to anesthesia twice in my life, so surgery scares me a lot.

            Anyway, boo hoo, poor pitiful me… sorry. I will count my blessings now!!

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  5. I feel for those women that can’t detach from their husband or ex enough to see the big picture. Instead they ruin their lives alienate their children and in Betty’s case become a social pariah and murderer that is then locked away. There is some sort of blinding addiction in a relationship with a narcissist which leads to death in all sorts of ways. 100,000 paper cuts probably proceeded her violent breakdown. Those two cheaters weren’t guiltless and they deserved each other. If only Betty could have seen that the worst revenge would have been to just walk away and let them have each other (because eventually that fairy tale would end unhappily ever after)

    When my ex was having his affairs there was nothing remotely sane or rational about me. I became obsessed with the other women, only by the grace of God did I get out of that non-relationship. I feel for this woman that has the rest of her life to ask herself why she didn’t just walk away.

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    • I know exactly what you mean, Katie. I felt the same thing when my ex was having affairs. He told me “you ain’t woman enough to satisfy me.” And I obsessed over that, wondering what was wrong with me, and what the other women had that I didn’t.

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    • That’s the problem, Katie. She doesn’t just ask herself why she didn’t just walk away. She should have but to this day thinks she did the right thing because she became so deranged. I like the analogy of 100,000 paper cuts. I remember the book, I might read it again and try to get a better idea of what Betty was like early in their marriage. I wonder if she was always as narcissistic as she became or if years of abuse drove her to become one.

      She never stopped to think that she could have gone on and had a good life if she had just let them be, and today would almost certainly be able to get the satisfaction of watching Dan dump Linda for someone even younger. They did deserve each other.
      She could probably get parole if she even just said she was sorry (even if she doesn’t mean it) but someone like her probably would have no idea what to do if she got out of prison. She probably feels safe there.

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  6. I read about her and saw the movie a while ago. I would have to look into it again. All I remember is things were fine until he started cheating and then she went crazy after that. No one seemed to care about the cheating. I guess most people wouldn’t react the way she did. It would be more rational to just file for a divorce and move on and get custody of the kids. That is what most people do when they find out their partners have cheated. But going all crazy about it will be used against you in court. I also remember in the movie she was diagnosed with a personality disorder and her driving in her ex’s house and getting upset with him about her Christmas present from him because she felt he got Linda a better present than her and she set her husband’s clothes on fire.

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    • The movie with Meredith Baxter Birney was very biased, to make her look like the worst of the two and make him look like the perfect husband who just couldn’t put up with her anymore but was still nice about it. I think in reality, both of them were very disordered. Yes, in court she got a diagnosis of NPD (and it’s probably correct too) but I think he was a worse narcissist than she was but the movie didn’t portray him that way. You could say perhaps they deserved each other, and maybe they did. Bella Stumbo’s book is a more unbiased account of their marriage and yes, she did all those terrible things (driving into his house, ruining Christmas because she didn’t get the present she wanted, stalking, abusive phone messages, exploiting her kids, etc. but his behavior was even worse in some ways and he was good at covering it up, something she was not. She had no impulse control at all.


  7. I’d never heard of this case – until now. I must say, everyone has there limits, and whilst I do not condone what Betty did, I feel she was pushed over the edge. 14 years is a long time to spend with someone, keeping a home for them, having children with them. She probably didn’t work either as she carried out her housewife ‘duties’. Suddenly, she was cast aside like trash and expected not to react? Look at my situation, for example. My now ex-husband called me at 2.30 am waking me up, after it was clear our relationship was over, telling me I had to fight his current girlfriend for him, despite my telling him repeatedly that I did not want to be with his abusive self anymore. So yes, Betty reaction turned her into a cold blooded murder, and this should not be praised, but damn it, I will say it again, everyone has their limits.
    Thanks for this post.

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  8. I think Betty Broderick had built her life around her husband, his approval and her role as perfect wife and mother was essential, co-dependent to a narcissist who took delight and justified his abuse of her to leave her for another woman. In addition her actions clearly reveal she was narcissistic as well, overcome with jealousy, perhaps bordering on being a sociopath as she showed no remorse for her crimes. She is guilty of murder, regardless of the underlying cause of her actions. She was aware when she committed premeditated murder and its consequences. Her husband was inhumane in his treatment of her but did not deserve to have his life taken. One never knows who they are really dealing with when they back them into a corner. That’s my take on Betty Broderick.

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    • I agree with you. There was no excuse for what she did. I’m only saying her husband wasn’t blameless either. But that’s never a reason to take someone else’s life, no matter how evil he might have been. A non-disordered person would have handled it very differently.

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        • Yes, they were both so disordered (I’d say based on what I’ve read of her she was more of a low-functioning borderline with narcissistic and histrionic traits and he was a high functioning sociopathic narcissist–NPD was a good diagnosis for the prosecution’s side for her because it’s more damning than BPD) that you just knew something horrible was going to happen. I feel very sorry for their children.

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