I was just over at Aldon Hynes’ blog, Orient Lodge, leaving a comment about one of his posts. Of the many blogs out there, Aldon’s is one of the more thoughtful, well-written ones around. But he stated that he thought Ruth Madoff should keep her $2.5 million and basically live with the shame of it all (I’m paraphrasing a bit).
I disagree. I remarked that Ruth had decided long ago to stay with Bernie and was his ‘partner in life and crime’. Plus any money they made was the Madoff’s victim’s money, not theirs.
I think, and others have stated publicly, that Bernie Madoff appears to have Anti-social personality disorder. That may be. But at the very least, he seems to fit the classic pattern of a person with NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). The primary trait of which is a lack of empathy for others. What’s interesting is what may have been the draw for Ruth Madoff. I suspect we’ll learn more in the following months and years, but I’m going to throw in some armchair psychology. Narcissists don’t marry other narcissists (d’oh – and share the spotlight?), but they do frquently pair up with individuals (mostly women) who have traits of BPD, or Borderline Personality Disorder. And these two can do the dance for a very long time. The narcissistic man can be just nasty enough and the borderline woman can have just low enough self esteem that they never leave each other – in fact, they desparately need each other.
(As an aside – although the full-blown personality disorders may not affect huge numbers of people in the population, traits of these two disorders can be found in much larger numbers. I’m not their psychiatrists, and I don’t know if either Madoff has had a thorough psych evaluation by anybody, but at least as to Bernie, we’re reading and hearing about Anti-social PD. I think the NPD is even more likley, though, with some anti-social traits. By the way – we now use the Anti-social term, but we used to call these people sociopaths which I prefer.)
Now, to all appearances, Ruth Madoff seems confident and attractive enough and so on to not be a sufferer, but borderlines can hide their affliction because their primary trait is a deep feeling of emptiness with a history of unstable relationships with important people in their lives like their parents or siblings or friends, and that kindof stuff might never show. Some borderlines do have histories of suicide attempts and/or other self-harming behaviors like cutting, but not all do. But the real deal is that they are in desparate need for affirmation that they are lovable and loving, that they even “exist” in a sense. Does this describe Ruth? We’ll have to wait and see.
With such a pairing, though, you would expect to see a wife who, because she has invested so much of her self worth with her narcissistic husband, would keep his ‘secrets’ as conferring upon her a sense of being his special woman or love. What would she do for him? She would mirror him ‘perfectly’ which is what the narcissist so desparately needs. How that might look would be an almost hero worship of her flawed and imperfect man, of ‘seeing’ him completely AND accepting him completely. Basking in this, he would feel he could confide in her – and his confidence in her would, in turn, allow her to feel his specialness as her own, too. It’s a perfect feedback loop. It’s also a gordian knot that is not easily unwound. Under these circumstances, if true, Ruth would never rat out Bernie. Isn’t it the case that everyone has said how devoted Ruth and Bernie were to each other? Even to the exclusion of their two sons who by all accounts may not have had much knowledge of Bernie’s crimes. They had what I call a “marriage of two” which really didn’t allow outsiders in, even the kids. And I don’t think it matters that Bernie had a little black book of hookers; they only ministered to his body whereas Ruth mirrored his special and secret soul.
That’s why we have a psychiatric term for the shared delusion – we call is a folie a deux. The “folly of two”. It’s a powerful reminder we ought not forget – we not only behave differently with others, we even think and feel differently, too. Scary, isn’t it? Such is the power of the limbic system and our mirror neurons. It is why we can so easily learn our baby’s specific cries and coos. It is why our animals “know” when we’re happy or sad, and especially with dogs, behave in ways to soothe us when we’re sad or agitated (yes, animals like all mammals have fairly well developed limbic systems). It’s not magic or psychic – it’s nature. It’s the way we’re designed to survive in families, packs, tribes and cultures.
The last act of Bernie is also an act of his narcissism because only HE had the power to save Ruth by falling on the sword and saying she had nothing to do with it. I don’t buy it. But I can see how he might need to do this because it keeps secure his place as the only one who did it, and the only one who should be imprisoned. Ruth is secure, due to him and his omnipotence. As long as she’s not culpable, he stays in the limelight, which is one place the narcissist loves and needs. It’s just all about him with she the innocent spouse. Right. She was the bookkeeper in the early days and I don’t believe for a second that she wasn’t intimately aware of the scam.
I think the point is that, even if they had a folly of two and were in a marriage of two emotionally damaged people who found each other and eventually found a way to scam their friends, families, and others – what they both did was wrong. Ruth had the power to pull the plug at any time. Now I don’t believe based on my possible scenario that this would have been easy for her, but this doesn’t make her a victim of him, either. At the very least, she had to wonder how it was that only Bernie could do so well year after year, when others had dips as well as good years. She isn’t stupid.
I’m not suggesting, either, that she should have an adjoining cell – but I do think she should suffer financially for these shared crimes. At least to the extent of their shared victims. If she has to rent a room somewhere or live with one of her sons, okay. If she has to get a job at Walmart or Starbucks to supplement her social security, I’m okay with that, too. Even if you think that she is innocent, like all ‘good’ wives of criminals, she may have to pay in other ways for the choices she made – even if that choice was only to be loyal to her husband. Even mafia wives have to get jobs sometimes, after their hubbies go to jail. Why is Ruth Madoff any different?