Chapter 4: Multiple Personalities and Satanic Cults
He … said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” And he begged him not to send them out ….
–Gospel of St. Mark 5:8-10
I felt a Cleavage in my Mind–
As if my Brain had split–
I tried to match it–Seam by Seam–
But could not make them fit.
One of the most intriguing and controversial products of hypnotic suggestion is a belief that some people harbor multiple internal personalities–an idea that became popular around the turn of the century. (For the early history of this phenomenon, see Chapter 10 .) Just as past-life regressions yield “secondary role enactments,” a person with multiple personality disorder (MPD) can perform as an entire ensemble in this life.
But many critics have persuasively argued that the phenomenon of multiple personality is almost invariably an artifact of therapy, produced by the therapist’s expectations and the suggestible, vulnerable, attention-seeking client .
This does not mean that the therapist intentionally creates the condition, nor does it mean that the client suffering from MPD is consciously acting fraudulently. Because the modern proliferation of multiples is so intimately connected with the hunt for repressed memories of sexual abuse, a brief review of its modern rise is in order.
The diagnosis of multiple personality disorder was extremely infrequent until the cases of Eve White (a pseudonym for Christine Sizemore) and Sybil, both of which spawned best-selling books and movies. These two cases have exerted enormous influence, providing models for thousands of others that have come in their wake.
Psychiatrist Corbett Thigpen, co-author of The Three Faces of Eve (1957) at first found Eve White to be rather boring–a “neat, colorless young woman.” She came to him because of terrible headaches, apparently caused by intolerable tension related to her failing marriage, exacerbated by her unwillingness to raise her daughter Bonnie in her husband’s Catholic faith because she herself was a Baptist. Mrs. White’s therapy was clearly important to her, as she had to drive 100 miles to meet with Thigpen. Her husband Ralph characterized her as “too good” but possessing a “little erratic streak.”
After several sessions, Thigpen suggested hypnosis in order to help analyze a dream. Soon after that, Mrs. White apparently experienced amnesia following a huge fight with her husband. Thigpen suggested to her that “unacceptable events are sometimes unconsciously repressed from memory or involuntarily dissociated from awareness,” and this seemed to make her feel better. Soon afterward, during a session, Mrs. White appeared “momentarily dazed,” looked blank, then transformed her entire appearance. “There was a quick reckless smile. In a bright unfamiliar voice that sparkled, the woman said, ‘Hi, there, Doc!'” After some confusing conversation, Thigpen asked “Who are you?” and she answered “Eve Black,” her maiden name.
Eve Black was everything Eve White was not. She was irrepressible, naughty, sensual, spontaneous. In many ways, she was a duplicate of Morton Prince’s “Sally Beauchamp,” the lively alternate personality (known as an “alter”) in that famous 1906 case. Dr. Thigpen was clearly taken with Eve Black, noting “how attractive those legs were.” Suddenly this boring patient was a lot more interesting. The idea that several entirely separate personalities could co-exist inside one brain or body has always intrigued not only psychiatrists, but the general public. Soon afterward, a third alter, “Jane,” appeared as a balanced, intelligent mid-point between the two Eves. By the end of the therapy, however, all of the personalities appeared to have integrated, and all was well.
Sybil and Her Traumatized Alters
In September of 1954, a few months after Thigpen and Cleckley published “A Case of Multiple Personality” in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology , Sybil Dorsett (a pseudonym) moved to New York City and commenced psychotherapy with Dr. Cornelia Wilbur. After three months, Wilbur met Peggy Baldwin, a disturbed child alter, and diagnosed Sybil as a multiple personality. Over the next 11 years, in over 2,300 sessions, Wilbur identified 16 different alters before triumphantly integrating them all. In 1973, Flora Rheta Schreiber, a literature professor, actress, and free-lance writer, published Sybil in a dramatic novelized form. That book, along with the subsequent movie, has provided a template for the modern epidemic of MPD diagnoses, including the idea that grotesque childhood sexual and physical abuse causes “dissociation” of various alters. Sybil’s tortures primarily featured enemas that she was forced to hold while her mother played piano concertos, but the sadistic parent also enjoyed pushing spoons and other items up her child’s vagina, making Sybil watch sexual intercourse, and hoisting her up to hang helplessly from a pulley.
Recently, however, Dr. Herbert Spiegel, a psychiatrist intimately familiar with Sybil’s case, has come forward to question her MPD diagnosis. Spiegel isn’t just your run-of-the-mill expert. He first identified highly hypnotizable people and has specialized in dissociative disorders. Schreiber thanked Spiegel in her acknowledgements, noting tersely that he called the patient “a brilliant hysteric.” In a recent phone conversation, Herbert Spiegel told me that Cornelia Wilbur had brought Sybil to him for consultation early in her therapy. He had diagnosed her as highly hypnotizable. Whenever Wilbur had to leave town, Spiegel served as Sybil’s temporary therapist. In addition, Sybil visited his Columbia University classes annually for a hypnotism demonstration, and she participated in his study of age regression.
“When Sybil came to therapy with me,” Spiegel says, “and we were discussing some phase of her life, she asked me, ‘Do you want me to be Peggy, or can I just tell you?’ That took me aback, and I asked her what she meant. ‘Well, when I’m with Dr. Wilbur, she wants me to be Peggy.’ I told her that if it made her more comfortable to be Peggy, that was fine, but otherwise it wasn’t necessary. She seemed relieved and chose not to assume different personalities when she was with me.”
Later, Flora Schreiber approached Spiegel to ask if he would coauthor the book, which initially intrigued him. But when he found that they were planning to call her a multiple personality, he objected. Schreiber explained that the publisher was interested only in this sensational approach. When Spiegel told her he wanted no part of such a venture, “she got in a huff and walked out.” At subsequent psychiatric conferences, Wilbur refused to speak to him.