Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Was one of the most horrendous child abuse stories a phony? Sybil exposed or not?

Sybil was a book that was written about a woman who developed multiple personalities after suffering from terrible abuse as a child. The name of the woman who was the subject of the book was Shirley Mason. She became involved in therapy with psychiatrist, Dr. Connie Wilbur. The story was heart-wrenching and the book quickly became a number one bestseller in 1973. It was later made into a television movie starring Sally Field.

Dr. Wilbur believed that Mason truly had the personality disorder. She worked with her up to 18-hours-per-week in order to help her overcome the issues and to integrate the personalities. The case was unusual and was the cause of hundreds of new cases being reported after it was exposed.

In the book, Sybil, the girl was abused as a child. Information about how her mother would trip her on the stairs or hang her by her hands in the barn were just the beginning of the atrocities revealed in both the book and movie. It wasn’t a far stretch for people to believe that several personalities could develop to protect the woman from such horrid memories.

The problem with the story is that in later years, Mason sent a letter to Dr. Wilbur telling her that she did not really have multiple personalities. She said that she was all of them. The writer who revealed this information in her new book “Sybil Exposed”, is Debbie Nathan. The book is a few years old now, but it raises some very serious issues. One of those issues is whether we should believe that this woman was even abused as a child.

The writer of “Sybil Exposed” claims that the doctor dismissed the note that recanted the story, stating that Mason was simply trying to avoid going further into therapy. That sounds like a valid reason to me, especially considering that the true identity of the subject had been revealed and she had become somewhat of a target for people who were curious about the personality disorder.

The danger in the newest book is that it only points to one piece of true evidence that the story was not true. That evidence came from a woman who had admitted years prior that she was mentally unstable. If Sybil was so mentally unstable, it gives more veracity to the story rather than taking it away, as the writer of “Sybil Exposed” would have us believe.

Is it possible that the entire Sybil story was a fake? Certainly. Is there proof of any kind that the entire story wasn’t true based on a recant by a woman who was likely scared out of her mind by the many people who had now figured out her identity?

When Dr. Wilbur was working with Sybil, she went to great lengths to determine if the stories of abuse were real. They even revisited Mason’s childhood home and found a great deal of evidence that the abuse had actually occurred. The bottom line is that there is more proof that the story was real than there ever was that it wasn’t. The children must be believed. It is just one more instance where adults, including the family doctor, knew that things were not right and never reported it. Children must be believed even if they are so frightened that they try to take it all back. The children must be protected.

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