The Trouble With Sybil

By Harry

You know what? I'm sick of Sybil. The whole concept. Every bit of it bugs me. And in this handy little article, I'll try to explain why. But let me get a couple small details out of the way first, okay.

I don't doubt for one minute that Shirley Mason and her system were real people. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever. After all, the author of that trashy book had to get ideas somewhere, right?

I also don't doubt for a minute that Ms. Mason and her system were multiple. After all, lots of people are, both functional and not, both those who consider it a disorder and those who don't, trauma-split, natural and every variety in-between.

I also don't think Ms. Wilbur was a bad therapist. Really freaking disrespectful to her patients' rights as people, if the book is to be believed, but then nobody in that book considers Ms. Mason's headmates to be people. So that's no real surprise there. Other than her rabid insistence on integration as the only treatment for this horrible disease™ but that's also the general viewpoint both then and now, so no. I don't think she was a horrible therapist, or that she OMG planted the idea of plurality in Ms. Mason's head because she and Ms. Schreiber had some sort of secret conspiracy™ going on.

One More Disclaimer I know there are systems with truly horrific abuse in their pasts. I'm not trying to invalidate anyone's abuse histories here, or to say that systems who were abused aren't real. I'm only trying to say that Sybil is a fictionalized portrayal of events in the life of a multiple and should not in any way be taken as a definitive source, and that I'm sick to death of seeing it be used as such. I also know that there are systems who *DO* function like Ms. Mason's and that they need help. I even know that some systems do need integration. But not every system does, and it's time society realizes that. 'But I think Sybil is even insulting to a lot of systems whose multiplicity did start as abuse.

Ok. Now that that's out of the way, let me get into the meat of what I DO think. For one, I think that that book is one of the worst pieces of victim porn I have ever read. Half the book deals with the horrible ways that Ms. Mason and her system were victimized. In the pages of this illustrious volume, Ms. Mason and her system cease to be people, and instead become a nice zoo exhibit for society to shiver and gawk at the strangeness of, like a lot of people gawk at a two-headed calf in a small-town museum.

The movie is a little better. After all, you can't legally show some of the crap the book describes on national television. So they had to clean it up some. But even with it being cleaned up, it still watches like a bad B-rated horror flik. You get to watch all Ms. Mason's dramatic switches, and her horrible antics. And it's all just a portrayal of a strange woman and her horrible disease™, isn't it?

There's the first problem. It's not an accurate portrayal. Neither Sybil the book or the movie was meant to be a case study. It is a fictionalized account of a multiple's life. Note that word there that begins with an f. Fictionalized as in not made to represent the reality of the situation. There were very likely things added in that didn't even really happen to Ms. Mason and her system, and other things were probably really badly distorted to make the book sell.

Ok. So what's the problem with that? Fictionalized accounts get made all the time, don't they? Yeah. They do. But you know what? A lot of people tout this thing as accurate, treat it like it's an accurate portrayal. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard someone say to someone in this system or someone I know, "You can't be really multiple because you don't act like Sybil." I would be able to buy a house in Malibu. Seriously. Psychology students get showed this horrible piece of trash in class, taught that's how we all act. But that's not even the half of it.

The worst tragedy of this whole Sybil mess is that plurals, first becoming aware of their multiplicity usually start with the book or the movie version of this thing, and they get into it and it scares the absolute shit out of them. Yeah? My system did it too, about seven years ago. We were a freshman in college, just getting to know each other, and someone had the bright idea to check out Sybil from the library.

We let it sit for a day or two, and started reading on a cold, rainy Saturday when we were stuck in our dorm room when we were by ourselves. We were apalled by about three pages in. We had never acted like that. Was something wrong with us? Was this really how multiples should act?

But we soldiered on, until the integrations started happening. And we started thinking about people in our own system disappearing like that. And instead of finding it joyous like the author probably intended, we found it absolutely horrifying. And the more we read, the more Ms. Mason's system started revealing the terrible abuse that they had endured, and of course it was written in the most horribly vivid detail. And somewhere about halfway through the book, we had to stop and flip to the end because between the horrible detais of abuse and people in Ms. Mason's system just randomly disappearing like sausage balls at the company holiday party, we were horribly shaken up. We felt like what we were was bad, wrong, like we were dirty and unclean, that our mere existence was a crime. When we flipped to the last page, we were hoping for some solace from the end. But that's where we got the worst shock of all.

The happy integration ending disgusted us. Now we don't doubt that some systems do need integration. But you know what? That should be a decision the whole system agrees on. And I don't think Ms. Mason's system got that chance to decide for themselves. It seems from the book, and the book may be wrong, that the integration was forced. And you know what? Disregarding my philosophical and moral disagreements with forced integration for a minute, forced integrations don't work, ninety-five per cent of the time. So chances are, Ms. Mason's system was just hiding out back there.

But now that I made that huge segway, my point still stands. Plurals read this shit, and think that this is a good representation of how all multiples have to act when it just isn't. There's no positive representation, but there are more positive representations than this piece of garbage. And I think that if this movie was banned from psychology classes, maybe therapists and the medical community at large would stop thinking of the Western cultural trope of one mind one body as the be-all-end-all of mental states. And just maybe, maybe society would realize that being plural is just another neural variation, and no less or more real than having one mind per body.