October 17, 2011


'Sybil' is one big psych-out: Author exposes split-personality 'lie' (KYLE SMITH, October 16, 2011, NY Post)

In her darkly absurd new account, "Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case," Nathan draws on a cache of letters at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice that reveals how three women (all now dead) created what they called "Sybil Inc." for fun, fame and profit.

Sybil's real name was Shirley Mason. She was a jittery girl who grew up quivering in a Minnesota family of Seventh-day Adventists who believed that the world was about to end and that any fiction divorced from God's truth was a sin. As a little girl, she was so terrified of God's watchful eye that, when she made up stories, she hid this habit from her parents. She was also made to participate in a health fad of the day, the "internal bath," or enema. She developed a germ phobia and at one point examined her hands obsessively.

As a student in New York City in the 1950s, she met a Park Avenue therapist named Cornelia "Connie" Wilbur. The two women adored each other even as Connie gradually got Shirley hooked on a series of "therapeutic" drugs, many of them new and seemingly wondrous, including Seconal, Demerol, Edrisal and Daprisal. (The last two were so addictive that they were soon banned.) Connie also strongly believed in giving patients Pentathol, which invariably got them blabbing, sometimes about fantasies that could not possibly have occurred. Still, the drug was widely believed to be a "truth serum."

One day, Shirley started talking about blackouts in which, she claimed, she became others with various names and personalities -- Peggy Lou, Peggy Ann, Vicky, etc.

Fascinated, Connie offered, "Would you like to earn some money?" She suggested that her patient could be the subject of a book. Connie offered to pay Shirley's medical-school tuition and living expenses.

The personality split was a lie, Shirley confessed in a five-page 1958 letter that sits in the archives at John Jay. She said she was "none of the things I have pretended to be."

Shirley continued, "I do not have any multiple personalities ... I do not even have a 'double' ... I am all of them. I have essentially been lying ... as trying to show you I felt I needed help ... Quite thrilling. Got me a lot of attention."

Posted by at October 17, 2011 8:44 PM

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