If you’re in your mid-40s or older, you likely remember the extraordinary story of Sybil, a woman who suffered horrific physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her mother and developed multiple personalities (16 in total) to cope with the torment and pain. The story of her treatment by psychoanalyst Cornelia Wilbur was told in a best-selling book by journalist Flora Schreiber that was published in 1973. In 1976, Field starred as the title character in a made-for-TV movie.
Wilbur, Schreiber and the real-life “Sybil” (Shirley Mason) are now all dead. The case had a huge impact on the practice of psychiatry in the ’70s, and led to a veritable epidemic of multiple personality disorder — with the vast majority of cases being diagnosed among women.
According to a new book by Debbie Nathan titled Sybil Exposed, the story was largely a fabrication driven by ambition, hubris, some degree of co-dependancy and drug addiction, and a whole bunch of other factors including the legitimate upheaval women of that time were experiencing as they wrestled with changing thoughts of what it meant to be a woman in the feminist era when old-school expectations of domesticity and propriety clashed with new-school aspirations for independence and freedom.