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Sybil

Category: Ill or disabled

Sybil was a patient with multiple personality disorder.  She was also an abused child.  Her case history is described in the book of the same name written by Professor Flora Schreiber.  Sybil was not her real name. 

Sybil had 16 Personalities, which were, under intensive therapy, eventually amalgamated into one core Personality.  Sybil was the original core Personality, but Sybil had moments, months and in some case years which were a total mental black out, but during which she functioned as different Personalities.

She went to the doctor because she couldn’t understand what was happening to her and thought she might be going mad.  People she had never seen before would insist that they knew her.  She would go to a picnic and have a vague sense of having been there before.  A dress that she had not bought would be hanging in her closet.  She would begin a painting and return to the studio to find it had been completed by someone else - in a style not hers.

One of the longest periods of black out was over two years, after the death of her grandmother, who was one of the few people who was kind to her.  At the funeral she blacked out and another Personality took over.  When she ‘woke up’ again and became Sybil, she had no recollection of anything of the years intervening.

Thus Sybil had not accumulated Learnt function in this time, the Personality that had taken over had.  Sybil had stopped learning.  Whilst Sybil had complete periods of which she had no memory whatsoever, her additional personalities did.  In effect, when she blacked out they took over and accumulated memories of their own, along with learnt function of their own.

Initially her doctor – Dr Connie Wilbur - discovered two other personalities called Vicky and Peggy.  As therapy proceeded however, more emerged. 

Each personality had different characteristics, different capabilities [one could play the piano, another – a boy – could do carpentry, another could paint, and another could cook well] and different memories, although effectively ‘occupying’ the one body.. The other people within Sybil’s body, for example,  had different religious attitudes and different tastes in books.  They also had different vocabularies, handwriting, speech patterns and different body images.  Their reactions to sex were not the same.   

The memories and knowledge depended on their personalities, what they chose to learn and remember was entirely dependent on their personalities and they could do some very different things, but rather intriguingly they all shared the same ethical codes.  And it is known that other cases of multiple personality also share this same trait.

As is the case with the majority of multiple personality cases, new personalities were ‘created’ as a form of disassociation from the original personality.  Sybil was subjected to the most appalling acts of cruelty by her mother - a sadistic schizophrenic.  Each time something truly traumatic happened, a new personality emerged or was created, similar to Sybil, but able to take over from Sybil.  In a sense, the new personality, being more robust, could take the cruelty whilst the true Sybil hid within her amnesia, until ‘wakened’.

Normal at birth,  Sybil had fought back until she was about two and a half, by which time the fight had been literally beaten out of her.  She had sought rescue from without until, recognising that this rescue would be denied; she resorted to finding rescue from within.

The selves were not conflicting parts of the total self, struggling for identity, but rather defences against the intolerable environment that had produced the childhood traumas.  Sybil’s mind and body were possessed– not by invading spirits - but proliferating parts of the original child.  Each self was younger than Sybil, with their ages shifting according to the time of the particular trauma.

From the evidence in the book, it would seem that the extra personalities can be created by siphoning off aspects of the main character of the primary personality that need to be protected.  Thus a new personality can be formed from the threatened parts of the primary personality. 

Of great importance, however, is the fact that the resulting personalities were self contained in the sense of being complete souls.

We might think that Sybil was an isolated case, but Dr Wilbur became so interested in this form of illness that she carried on to investigate many more cases and found the results to be much the same. 

Dr Wilbur [Sybil’s doctor] concluded that this illness occurs more frequently than is recognised by doctors.  It is possible that many people who suffer from amnesia are in reality multiple personalities.  Furthermore, it may account for many disappearances in which no body or missing person is ever found.

"Mythological Ghost" by Veronique La Perriere

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