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Posts Tagged ‘Sybil’


A reader emailed me an article entitled Real ‘Sybil’ Admits Multiple Personalities Were Fake. I was interested to hear how this could be considering that Sybil (pseudonym for Shirley Mason) passed away in 1998 and so is in no position to have recanted her story recently.

After reading this article (I have not read the book), I think the headline is a bit strong for the purported evidence of Sybil making the whole thing up. Based on the article, the “proof” is one letter that Sybil sent her therapist, Dr. Connie Wilbur, in 1958:

I do not really have any multiple personalities. … I do not even have a ‘double.’ … I am all of them. I have been lying in my pretense of them.

This is just an excerpt, but I would argue that this letter could be read differently than the author is apparently reading it. How many times have I said that all of someone’s alter parts are them? I am the sum of all of my parts and more. Each alter part could arguably be viewed as a “pretense” or even a “lie” because no one part is all of me. For example, my host personality could have passed a lie detector test about never having been abused because that part was created to perpetuate the lie that I hadn’t been abused. If that excerpt is the smoking gun, I am not buying the case.

I wonder why this author is so invested in “disproving” dissociative identity disorder. The article says,

Within a few years of [the book Sybil’s] publication, reported cases of multiple personality disorder — now known as dissociative identity disorder — leapt from fewer than 100 to thousands.

My guess is that if we assume that Sybil made it all up, then the rest of us are just making it all up, too.

Here’s the thing – Just because people don’t talk about something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Let’s take self-injury by masturbation as an example. This was a topic that nobody talked about. I first heard about it over at Isurvive when a member posted about struggling with this form of self-injury. This form of self-injury was so “unheard of” that a moderator deleted the post because she believed that it was a prank.

Thankfully, the member had posted the same thing in two separate forums, both in the Main forum (where it was deleted) and in the Dependence & Compulsions forum, where I saw the post. I had never heard of self-injury through masturbation, but I recognized the similarities to other forms of self-injury and posted an encouraging response. The board owner recognized this was a legitimate post and instructed that it not be deleted.

From that one post, I wrote the blog entry entitled Masturbation as a Form of Self-Injury after Sexual Child Abuse, which currently has 157 comments, many of which are readers confessing that they, too, struggle with this form of self-injury but thought they were the only ones.

Now, did all of these readers just start engaging in self-injury through masturbation because they read my blog? Of course not! They found the courage to talk about it because someone else found the courage to break the silence. That’s what happened with dissociative identity disorder (DID). Sybil broke the silence, and then others found the courage to break their own silence. Discrediting Sybil is not going to change my experience one bit.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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One particularly distressing part of working through flashbacks involves your body losing control. If you are dealing with a particularly traumatizing memory, your body might lose control during the present just as it did when the traumatizing event took place. Your bladder or bowels might empty, or you might find yourself vomiting. This is all a normal aftereffect of the trauma. However, because losing control of bodily functions is embarrassing as an adult, many child abuse survivors are too ashamed to talk about this aspect of flashbacks.

Two of the most traumatizing events I experienced ended with me vomiting. When I recovered the memories of these events, my body felt the uncontrollable urge to vomit again. Unfortunately, I had an empty stomach. My body retched and retched until a little bit of stomach acid finally came up. I felt completely fine physically both before and after the vomiting. However, upon recovering the memory, I had no power to stop the retching.

In the remake of the movie Sybil, Sybil experienced a loss of bodily function. (I cannot remember if this scene was in the original version, too.) One of her alter parts was triggered by the music that her abusive mother used to play. This part held the memory of being tied to the piano while her mother played. As a child, she kept begging to use the bathroom, but her mother would not let her go and threatened her if she wet her pants. Eventually, her bladder gave out, leading to more abuse. As an adult, this alter part caused her to lose control of her bladder when triggered.

When you experience a flashback, you relive the trauma. Many people mistakenly believe that flashbacks are only visual, but they can involve any of the senses. Our bodies hold memories of the trauma as well. It makes perfect sense that, as we recover the memory by reliving the event, our bodies will react in the same way that they did when the abuse happened in childhood.

The good news is that, if you choose to face the memory and heal from the trauma, losing bodily control should not be an ongoing problem. Now that I have faced and mostly healed from those particularly traumatizing memories, I no longer feel the urge to vomit if I think about those events.

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Losing Control of Bodily Functions

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Microscopic view (c) Lynda BernhardtIn my last couple of posts, I have been talking about my reaction to the remake of the movie Sybil, which aired on Saturday night on CBS. In this post, I am going to compare and contrast my integration experience with Sybil’s.

In the movie, Sybil’s healing really began when her various parts started talking about the abuse. Dr. Wilbur correctly recognized that Sybil’s awareness of the others’ existence was a huge step toward healing.

This was the case with me, too, although I did not need a third party to accomplish this. I had one part (“Irate”) who was badly triggered by an overnight stay at my mother’s house who stayed co-present for a while after that. She is the one who would “step into my face.” I could “feel” her presence and knew that her thoughts were “not mine.” This is what launched me on a quest to learn all I could about alter parts and understand what was going on with me.

In the movie, Dr. Wilbur hypnotized Sybil and then age-progressed all of the parts so that they would be one age. When Sybil came out of hypnosis, she remembered a lot more than she had (which, up until this point, had been nothing about the abuse). My experience was very different.

I never needed to use hypnosis, nor did I involve a third party in order to remember or integrate. I did all of these things alone in my bed at night. I did have a therapist for two plus years, but he served more of a “check-in” role, reassuring me that I was not “crazy” and helping direct me along the healing path. While I told him about the alter parts eventually, the focus of my therapy was on learning to love myself and talking about what happened, not on the specific parts.

I had no need to age progress any of my parts, although I have read that this is still part of the healing that many therapists recommend for people with DID. I needed to love each part and accept each part’s experiences, feelings, and emotions as “mine.” Then, they would integrate, regardless of the part’s age.

One other big difference is that Dr. Wilbur sought to integrate each part back into Sybil. Sybil was a host personality, not the original child. What I found was that I had to integrate my host (Faye) back into the original child, not back into the others. I also integrated the others back into the original child. Dr. Wilbur was correct that there were no “deaths.” All are still present inside of myself. I just experience them in a different way – parts of myself that are always “present” as a part of who I am.

One key part of healing that the movie did not get into (possibly because Dr. Wilbur was a pioneer and did not know this herself) was that I found the key to healing to be loving and accepting each part as “me.” I would reach out in love to each part, thanking each part for the role he or she played in keeping me safe and then inviting each part into the core so it could be “out” forever. When I integrated my host personality, I stopped being separate from the other parts and was forever always “out” after that – no more lost time.

I would not think that Sybil suddenly having access to a whole bunch of memories at one time would have been a good thing. The reason for splitting in the first place is to distance yourself from the event and accompanying emotions. Even today, as an integrated person who has dealt with the big picture view of each form of abuse, it is hard to look over my entire abuse history in one sitting. To do this at one time – to take in all of the horror in one view – without having healed each piece as you went along would be overwhelming. It might be that they did this in the movie to give you an idea of where the next several years of therapy were going. The caption at the end said that it took Sybil a long time to become whole.

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Integration posts

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Microscopic view (c) Lynda BernhardtIn my last post, I shared my reaction to the remake of the movie Sybil, which aired on Saturday night on CBS. In this post, I am going to compare and contrast my dissociative identity disorder (DID) experiences with Sybil’s.

Both Sybil and I were sexually abused by our mothers. With my mother, it was oral, but I have met many women online whose mothers also inserted objects and gave them enemas, just like with what happened to Sybil. I had other abusers who did the object insertion, which I won’t go into here. We both also had mothers with a very warped and sick view of God and religion. So, she and I had all of those things in common.

Both of us were raised by schizophrenic mothers, and both of us had fathers who allowed severely mentally ill women to raise us. I wanted to jump out of my seat cheering when Dr. Wilbur went off on Sybil’s father for allowing a schizophrenic to raise a child. I wish she could give my father the same tongue-lashing because he deserves it, too. Of course, his reaction probably would have been similar to Sybil’s father – defensiveness and denial.

While we both had numerous alter parts (she had 18; I had around a thousand, but most were fragments rather than personalities), our multiple systems were pretty different. Mine was seamless in switching while hers was jarring. (In fairness to the real Sybil, the director might have told the actress to be that obvious so the audience could follow along.)

Here is how seamless mine was: When I was in the process of integrating, I was typing a message on my favorite message board for abuse survivors about my plan for healing and how I was confident that this would work. When I proofread what I wrote (an occupational hazard for a professional writer), I found the words “me hope” sandwiched in between two sentences. I type 90 words per minute, and I have no memory of typing those words. However, they were there, which tells you how rapidly I had the ability to switch. Also, as I shared in this post, I am only aware of one person ever “catching me” switching.

Also, when I was co-present (when “I” – the host personality – was “out” along with another alter part), I had internal dialogue (would have “loud thoughts” that were not “mine”). I never had some freaky out loud conversation like what happened in the scene with Sybil kissing her boyfriend.

The point of being DID is to be seamless so nobody knows that you are protecting yourself. I find it hard to believe that Sybil would have been seamless in the way her character was portrayed in the movie.

Like Sybil, I had both male and female parts. I also had animal parts, which Sybil did not seem to have.

One more thing – I, and most people with DID that I have known, were born people-pleasers. That was not the impression that I got about Sybil. Sybil was very lonely for a friend. While I was lonely for somebody to “see me,” I did not have issues with making friends in adulthood, even with DID.

In my next post, I will contrast my healing method with the healing method used by Dr. Wilbur in the movie.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Microscopic view (c) Lynda BernhardtAs a person who has recovered from dissociative identity disorder (DID) (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), I was curious to watch the remake of the movie Sybil, which aired on Saturday night on CBS. I have always loved Jessica Lange (who played Dr. Wilbur) in pretty much anything. I did not know much about Tammy Blanchard (who played Sybil), but I am now a fan. She was amazing in the role.

Unfortunately, the movie began with a focus on Russian nesting dolls. I get why they did this (symbolic of many living within one), but it did not help my Russian nesting doll phobia one bit. I wish I had not watched the movie live because then I could have just fast-forwarded through that part. I used my coping tools and pushed through the beginning with a big headache.

I thought the movie did a good job of explaining the reason for alter parts. Also, I did not think that the movie exploited Sybil, making her look like some circus freak, which is the reaction I have had to some of the other portrayals of people with DID in the movies.

I liked that the movie solely focused on her therapy because that is the part I cared about the most.

Unfortunately, hub chose to be in the room the entire time that I watched the movie. Considering that I had even more parts than Sybil did and that I endured most of the same abuses (and more), I found it wildly amusing to hear some of hub’s comments throughout the movie. He even made a crack about why the boyfriend would be attracted to her with all of those parts. I had to bite my cheek to keep from laughing.

I also loved watching the pioneering of recognizing DID as a real disorder. Dr. Wilbur’s colleague kept pointing to the fact that DID was not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which was interesting because multiple personality was included in DSM-III and the new name of DID is included in the current edition of DSM-IV. There are now even entire practices that are devoted solely to DID, so it is amazing how far we have come.

I found many similarities between my experiences and Sybil’s but also many differences. I will cover both in my next two posts.

Related topics:

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and the Movies

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Plant (c) Lynda BernhardtI was flipping through my latest issue of the TV Guide and saw that a remake of the 1976 made-for-TV movie Sybil will be airing on CBS on Saturday, June 7, at 8:00 p.m. EST. That movie starred Sally Field, and it was pretty interesting. Of course, I saw the movie before I recognized that I had dissociative identity disorder (DID) myself, so I am not sure how I would feel about it today. You can read about the cast for the newer version (including Jessica Lange, Tammy Blanchard, and JoBeth Williams) here.

The TV Guide says that this is a 2008 adaptation of Flora Rheta Schreiber’s nonfiction best seller and describes Sybil as a “shy but volatile young woman with multiple-personality disorder.” Hello – That label went out with the release of DSM-IV in the year 2000. However, in fairness to the movie, Sybil would have been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder (MPD) before DSM IV was published, so I guess I can live with the label. However, I hope the movie explains that the label of MPD is no longer used.

I plan to watch the movie and then blog about my reaction to it. It should be interesting to watch, especially after all of the work I have done to integrate from DID.

I have watched other movies about DID, including The Three Faces of Eve and Voices Within: The Lives of Truddi Chase, which was an adaptation of the excellent book, When Rabbit Howls. What strikes me is the lack of subtlety in switching from one part to another. I know that the actresses probably have little knowledge about DID, but it still irks me because people watch these movies and assume that is what switching is like.

The whole point of switching was to protect the inner child in a covert manner. Throughout my entire life, I can only recall one person noticing me switching, and it really freaked her out.

I was in the high school play as Mrs. Soames in Our Town. In the third act, my character is deceased, so I spent most of the act sitting quietly in a chair, along with others in the “graveyard,” doing nothing. I remember looking to the stage lights (which were only lightly on me – the spotlight was on the living characters) and feeling somewhat trancelike.

Afterward, my friend asked me what I was doing on stage during the third act. I said, “Sitting there.” What did she think I was doing? Cartwheels?

She did not know what to call it or describe it, but what she saw was various parts emerging as I sat there in silence for a long period of time. Nobody else even noticed, but this person was watching me closely and picked up on it.

Other than that one time, nobody ever picked up on me switching, even though I did it for three decades. They might notice that I went from being a doormat to %itchy in a split second, but they just thought they hit a nerve. Nobody ever suspected that I had other parts inside of myself.

So, we will see how this newer cast portrays Sybil. I cannot wait.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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