I remember watching “Sybil”, starring Sally Field, in high school. Health class, I think. I was horrified and mesmerized by what I saw. Human minds, and what can go “wrong” with them, are fascinating; but to watch this woman shift from one personality to the next was over the top. Not to mention the abuse scenes were enough to make you avert your eyes and thank the good Lord that nothing like that had ever happened to you.
When I saw “Sybil Exposed” on the shelf I thought to myself, “Ooh! I love to read about mental illness!” I didn’t bother to read the inside of the book jacket, I just stacked it with the others and went about my day. I began reading it a few days later and I was shocked!
Did you know that Sybil’s story was made up? I had no idea! Apparently lots of people knew this but since the story came out in the early 1970s it isn’t really “newsworthy” any longer.
Debbie Nathan tells the true stories of Shirley Mason, Dr. Connie Wilbur, and Flora Schreiber in a linear and historical way that seems very much like a work of fiction. I got to know all three women in their own lives before their paths crossed… But when they crossed how the fireworks would start!
In a sentence:
Shirley Mason had psychological issues that were exacerbated by her fame-seeking shrink who used drugs and hypnotic states along with suggestion to produce, along with a journalist just trying to make a name for herself, one of the best-selling non-fiction books sold in the 1900s.
“Sybil” would give birth to a movie, tee shirts, and read-along guides for classrooms. It gave women a character to identify with and also ruined families and lives. Women especially were prone to “remember” under hypnosis. The memories were never pleasant ones like “Oh I remember once when Daddy took me to the zoo.” “I remember when Daddy locked me in the closet with the neighbor’s rabid dog and only a plastic spoon for defense,” was a more likely memory to be “recovered”. Oprah and Sally Jesse Raphael hosted talk shows with Multiple Personality Disorder as the headline while books and magazines, written by those diagnosed with or about MPD, flourished.
All three women achieved fame and fortune for a short while. Author and Doctor lived the high life while the then anonymous Shirley Mason wanted only to continue her life as an art professor. Shirley was outed among her friends and family as Sybil, and even in a newspaper article, but she was mostly left dependent on Dr. Wilbur for the remainder of her life. All three died alone, at home, in the 1990s.
This book brings to light how suggestible our minds can be and how we as a people are looking for answers to the question we ask ourselves in the deepest parts of our minds: “Does anyone else feel this way?”
Have you read this book? Tell me what you thought!
Do you have any book suggestions for me? Comment below or on Facebook!