Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber is the true story of a shy young woman and the 16 other personalities she possesses. Two are male, 14 are female, and all are characterized with different emotions, interests, behaviors, speech patterns, and body language. Sybil first seeks therapy for her social anxiety and memory loss, but along the way, her doctor also helps with memories of her abusive childhood and her multiple personalities. This book is composed of notes made by Dr. Wilbur during his analysis, Sybil’s diaries and essays, and author Schreiber’s face-to-face encounters with each of Sybil’s personalities. The details shared are amazing and help the reader feel a part of the therapy sessions.
Sybil’s personalities are all a part of her: Vicky, a self-assured and sophisticated French girl; two Peggys, one headstrong and one tactful; Mary, a thoughtful, and maternal homebody; Marcia, an extremely emotional writer and painter; Vanessa, a dramatic and talented musician; Mike and Sid, Sybil’s only male alter egos; Nancy, who is interested in politics and biblical religion but fear Roman Catholics; Sybil Ann, who is physically and mentally exhausted; Ruthie, one of the less developed selves, believed to be age two; Clara, intensely religious and highly critical of Sybil; Helen, constantly afraid but determined to achieve greatness; Marjorie, relaxed, bubbly, and quick to laugh; and finally, a nameless teen with an optimistic outlook. As I learned about these personalities, I started to feel like I knew them. Schreiber made them come alive to the reader.
Dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder, is a psychological condition where a person lacks connection between feelings, thoughts, memories, actions, or a sense
of identity. This may be caused by traumatic experiences or physical or mental abuse. The dissociative aspect serves as a coping mechanism – the person removes him or herself from an experience that is traumatic and is replaced by a new personality altogether. When a personality reveals itself and controls the individual’s behavior and thoughts, it is called “switching.” Switching can occur in spans of seconds, minutes, and even days. Sybil, despite experiencing so much trauma, inspired me as she worked through her problems with unwavering determination.
The reader will be on an emotional roller coaster filled with shock, sadness, and intrigue. Sybil’s thoughts and personalities are intriguing. She shows bravery by sharing her tragic past and allowing her doctor to push her to expose her demons. Sybil’s story has become so famous that there are two film adaptations of this book.
Sybil might be one of the best books I have ever read. I loved how the author expressed the thoughts of the personalities and helped the reader feel connected to each of them. The style of narration made me empathize with Sybil. Since there were many medical terms I did not know, the index really helped me understand the terminology. I’d recommend this book to anyone, but it would most likely interest people who are curious about psychology and mental illnesses.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.