Flora Rheta SchreiberS

Flora Rheta Schreiber?S “Sybil” Essay, Research Paper

Do you ever feel as though you are acting as a different person in different situations? Do you ever feel as though acting “fake”? You are definitely not alone in your thoughts and feelings, but do note that there is always something or someone more extreme than you are.

One such person is the character of Sybil Dorsett, in Flora Rheta Schreiber’s novel, Sybil. The novel, Sybil, takes a look at multiple personalities within a person. It is based on the research of Dr. Cornelia Wilbur. Dr. Wilbur was a psychoanalyst who had been treating Sybil for about three months. One day, Sybil, who was a schoolteacher, burst into the room in a hysterical speech. Her fists were clinched with rage as she shouted loudly, “Men are all alike. You just can’t trust ‘em. You can’t.” At this point, Dr. Wilbur realized that there was definitely something wrong with this picture, for she had never seen Sybil in this sort of state. At this, Dr. Wilbur turned to Sybil and simply asked, “Who are you?” She was quite surprised at the answer that she received. Sybil said “Can’t you tell the difference? I’m Peggy.” It was during this first encounter with “Peggy” that Dr. Wilbur realized that she was dealing with a case of multiple personality. Multiple personality was not unheard of though. The three personalities of Chris Seizmore had already been well documented at that time and used for the subject of a movie, The Three Faces of Eve. However, nothing that had ever been documented or witnessed in the history of medicine was going to prepare Dr. Wilbur for what she was about to discover. She learned through therapy and many patient months that she was not dealing with just two personalities, Peggy and Sybil, but rather sixteen different personalities.

In the following sessions of therapy that were to follow, Dr. Wilbur began to learn more and more about each different personality. She figured that this was the only answer or way to treat Sybil. She was going to have to treat each of Sybil’s separate selves. The way that she was going to have to eventually treat Sybil though was by going into the past and bringing up some of the repressed memories that Sybil had from childhood. She would then have to make Sybil bring together all of the different selves and come to terms with the past and the reality of the present and future. Some of the more flamboyant personalities were Sybil, of course, who was generally shy and withdrawn, Peggy, who was quite aggressive, Vicky, who is quite sophisticated, Mary, who was quite obese, but yet motherly, Vanessa, who had the aura of an actress, baby-Ruthie, who was very childlike, and two energetic, high-spirited young males, Mike and Sid. The treatment of these different selves was going to be an enormous task any way that Dr. Wilbur looked at it. Another odd that was stacked against her was that Sybil was in the guise of the other personalities at least one-third of her life and had no recollection of ever doing any of the things that she did while she was “another self”. However, there was an interesting twist to that. The other selves were very aware of Sybil and often spoke of her in sessions. They believed that she was another person and often told Dr. Wilbur that they were there (at session) in Sybil’s place for the appointment. On more than one occasion, two would also show up at once. Mike and Sid were usually the two that were together. Many of the selves complained about Sybil as well. Some of the more vocal ones were Peggy, Vicky, and Mary. Peggy complained that Sybil was too calm and that she never got angry about anything. Vicky complained saying that it was appalling that Sybil worried all of the time and did not enjoy life and all that it has to offer. Mary, on the other hand complained that she always had to take care of the practical matters in Sybil’s life. Despite their different complaints, all of them did have one complaint that was the same which was that they were not fed enough.

When Dr. Wilbur began to delve into Sybil’s past, she found a nightmare. She learned that Sybil was abused and even in some cases, tortured as a child. Sybil’s mother had a psychological breakdown shortly after Sybil’s birth. She stayed in a depressed state for more than four months afterward. After this, Sybil’s mother resorted to violence, which was directed toward Sybil. Some of the things that Dr. Wilbur found were horrific. She found from the selves that Sybil’s mother often stuffed a washcloth down Sybil’s throat and beat her with a broom handle on the back. There was no one to help poor Sybil either, her father was away at work and no one else questioned the explanations given by her mother concerning Sybil’s bruises, dislocated shoulder, and fractured larynx. It was reasoned by Dr. Wilbur that the creation of the personalities came from the repression of Sybil’s anger and fear. She used the personalities as a defense and outlets. One of her personalities, Peggy, always denied that Mrs. Dorsett, Sybil’s mother, was her mother. This denial enabled Peggy to have feelings of hatred toward Mrs. Dorsett.

It was only after eleven years that Sybil was finally able come to terms and accept all of her different personalities. After the acceptance of these different personalities, she was successfully treated by Dr. Wilbur and able to face the future with confidence and joy.

I found this book to be quite enjoyable despite the difficulty of its reading. I believe that it is an excellent supplemental piece that can be read as well as studied while studying multiple personality disorder in psychology. There still remains a factor that irks me however, and in my supplemental reading, I found that I was not alone. There is the problem of having so many different personalities that can think for them and are aware of the others. What’s to say that they would not just “toy” with Dr. Wilbur’s mind and make up new personalities as the sessions went on? What’s to say that when Dr. Wilbur asked specific questions that she was not setting herself up for a lie, a fabrication, only to be thought up on a moments notice by a woman who, with so many different personalities could be legally considered insane? The truth is that no one really knows the answer to these questions. However, we do still have the evidence that is present within the studies performed by Dr. Wilbur and some studies done by other scholars and psychologists that are quite in depth that suggest Dr. Wilbur may have had a hand in the fabrication of personalities that did not exist within Sybil Dorsett until a suggestion was made by Dr. Wilbur, herself.


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