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#1 New book says 'Sybil' was made up10-19-2011, 06:01 PM"Sybil" was one terrifying television miniseries, and the 1976 program not only won Sally Field an Emmy, but introduced America to the concept of one person having multiple personalities. But was it all fiction?
Field played a woman whose childhood of abuse caused her to develop 13 different personalities. The personalities were disturbing, sure, but worse was the creepy depiction of the abuse by Sybil's mother. Let's just say an entire generation associates enemas with lengthy Dvorak musical compositions because of this movie, and also that entire generation probably has to go to the bathroom really badly just reading this.
In a new book, "Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case," author Debbie Nathan dives into the facts behind the original case, as is told in a 1973 best-selling book. She uses letters between the woman dubbed Sybil (real name: Shirley Mason), her analyst, Cornelia Wilbur (played by Joanne Woodward in the miniseries), and "Sybil" author Flora Schreiber to expose the book as a fake.
According to the New York Times, the book shows that Wilbur wasn't so much helping "Sybil" as planting the idea for the multiple personalities in her brain. The New York Post quotes a letter mentioned in the book in which Mason confesses "I do not have any multiple personalities ... I have essentially been lying. ... Got me a lot of attention."
And perhaps sparked plenty of imitators and unnecessary pain. And pretty much ruined a previously perfectly acceptable girl's name. "Sybil," like "Damien" after "The Omen" came out, earned a disturbing reputation it has yet to shake.
10-20-2011, 10:13 AM
"Sybil" may have made it all up, but there are many cases of the condition in which the obvious causal factor of extreme and sadistic childhood physical and sexual abuse have been documented.
They changed the name of Multiple Personality Disorder to Disassociative Disorder a while ago, although the outdated DSM III-R that I have (from circa 1988) has it still as MPD. They did this because first the child learns to disassociate herself from traumatic situations (most children do this to some degree in traumatic situations, and some adults do). Then some children, usually intelligent and creative children, go to a different level at that point and develop alternate personalities to deal with life. Although MPD is a more descriptive term, Disassociative Disorder is more descriptive of how it develops.
It is very rare. I've dealt with it once, in almost 25 years working in the field. What the movies and television shows don't show is that there is a certain amount of awareness by the patient about her condition. I don't want to call it a voluntary condition, or one in which the person is faking insanity to get away with something, but people who are faking frequently choose this condition because it is too hard to fake schizophrenia.
10-21-2011, 03:29 AM
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Is it true that sometimes deliberately induced trauma (like certain kinds of psychological torture) can bring on the disorder?
10-21-2011, 10:42 AM
I don't know if it could in a psychologically otherwise healthy adult. The disassociative part, yes-that's the people who report leaving their body during a trauma-not a near-death experience, that would be something different . Many women who are raped have that experience. But probably not the multiple personality part, there would be too much conscious awareness for that, unless powerful drugs and/or ECT was involved in the torture, because those things affect memory and awareness.
There are allegedly shrinks who can manipulate people's memories so that they believe that they were sexually abused as children, so who knows what a clever, sociopathic shrink could do with the tools he would have access to like ECT and powerful medications.
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