I couldn’t resist reading about “Sybil”, a woman diagnosed with sixteen different personalities. I never saw the movie, and had barely even heard about this actual woman, but was interested in how she came to develop so many personalities. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this story, but what I felt throughout most of it was compassion. Sybil was an only child who grew up in a home where her parents were not able to be loving and kind to her. She wasn’t just abused, she was tortured by her mother, and largely ignored or criticized for most of her childhood. When Sybil’s grandmother, who had been the only person to show her love, died, Sybil was mentally unable to cope. Faced with that loss and daily torture, Sybil’s defense mechanism was to create 16 different personalities, each of whom materialized at times when Sybil could not deal with her life. The personalities weren’t harmful or dangerous to Sybil, in fact they all wanted to help her and felt sorry for her.
Initially, I was shocked that one of the personalities took over Sybil’s body and mind for five days. When Sybil “woke up” she had unknowingly traveled from Chicago to Philadelphia, but that wasn’t even the craziest thing that happened. At one point, Sybil’s personalities lived for her for two whole years! There were also several instances where two of her personalities inhabited her at the same time and had conversations with each other and Sybil’s therapist. Sybil was fortunate to find a therapist who not only understood what was happening to Sybil, but was determined to help her. Considering that there were less than ten other documented cases of multiple personalities at the time of Sybil’s treatment, that was no small task. Sybil was the first recorded case to have 16 different personalities, and also the first to have a personality of the opposite sex. The writing was strong and the story unfolded very well through the first hand account of Sybil’s therapist.
When I told people I was reading this, many asked me if I was interested in psychology. I’m fascinated with the mind, and what people need to tell themselves to adapt and survive stressful situations. This is one reason I am so intrigued with stories of captivity. “Sybil” was a riveting story that kept me glued to the pages, and if you are even slightly interested in the many facets of the mind, then this book would be perfect.