Shirley Ardell Mason

Welcome back, fellow humans.

Have you heard about Shirley Ardell Mason?

Warning: this post contains details of sexual assault which may be distressing for some readers. 

Shirley Ardell Mason was known as ‘Sybil’ in order to protect her privacy. 

In 1923, Shirley was born into a strict and religious Seventh Day Adventist family that resided in Dodge Centre, Minnesota. She was the only child of a carpenter father, Walter Mason, and domineering mother, Mattie Mason. As a child, Shirley was very resourceful and inclined to daydream. Her mother exposed the young Shirley to sexual maltreatment. Shirley suffered from OCD dispositions and pricking numbness in her arms, acute headaches and exhaustion. Afterwards, her mother was hospitalized for being a paranoid schizophrenic. Shirley was an underweight woman with 174 IQ points and graduated in 1949 from the teachers’ college that became Minnesota State, Mankato. Evidently, Shirley suppressed and denied to accept childhood trauma. In 1956, She obtained a Master’s degree in Art Education from Columbia University’s Teachers College and in 1974, she lectured art at Rio Grande College in Ohio, before moving to Lexington, Kentucky. Shirley develops into a graciously deemed as a commercially profitable artist.

From the 1950s to 1960s, Shirley requested help from Dr Connie Wilbur when she had no memory of years at Columbia University, underwent emotive breakdowns and depressions and primarily, Wilbur diagnosed her as suffering from fugue states, a singular form of hysteria triggered by dissociation. In the beginning, Wilbur persuaded Shirley to read about The Three Faces of Eve, Thigpen and Cleckley’s book on a case of multiple personalities (now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder). She prescribed an abundance of erratic doses of psychotropic and barbiturates medications such as Seconal for sleep (now typically prescribed less than two weeks because it can be addictive), Daprisal for cramps (another addictive drug that it was recalled from the market), Demerol, Edrisal, Thorazine, Dexenol (speed) and Pentathol, a type of truth serum but in reality, the drug allowed Shirley to conjure her being sexually and physically assaulted by her mother with kitchen utensils and a flashlight, giving her enemas and filling her bladder up with cold water, her mother conducting orgies in the woods with teenage girls, luring her to a doctor’s house to have a tonsillectomy and placing washcloth in her mouth, cotton in her nose so she would suffocate and buried alive in a grain silo in Walter’s workspace. Shirley was inept to have children due to the injuries she sustained from the abuse. Wilbur proceeded so far as to conduct electroconvulsive therapy.

Sally Field as Sybil (1976)

On two different occasions, Peggy and Vicky attended an appointment on Shirley’s behalf. The following weeks, Shirley apologised for not being at the appointment, as a matter of fact, she was. All through their sessions over the next decade, the disturbed woman uncovered 16 distinctive personalities, allowing Wilbur to establish the Multiple Personality Disorder case. Wilbur pursued her quest to develop the first distinguished American psychiatrist to handle full-scale multiple personalities. The following 16 personalities of Sherley were the real patient, Sybil was exceedingly impressionable. A warm-hearted and sophisticated woman named Victoria. Peggy Lou was an insistent, enthusiastic, headstrong girl with temperament. Peggy Ann was exceptionally considerate and anxious. A pious, motherly woman called Mary. A passionate artist with a British accent called Marcia. Vanessa is alluring, sensational and felt contempt for religion. Mike is an honoured carpenter with paternal expectations. Sid is a shy carpenter. Nancy is distrustful and fascinated by conspiracies. Sybil Ann is strongminded but frightened and exhausted. Ruthie is an infant. Clara is very spiritual, perilous and annoyed. Helen is shy and frightened. Marjorie is a social animal. The Blonde is an anonymous, adventurous teen. Around this time, Wilbur embraced the role of mother, she gave her clothes and money, paid her rent, and supplied her with drugs. Wilbur hated Shirley’s vile mother. Wilbur, Author Flora Rheta Schreiber and Shirley agreed to compose a non-fiction book about Shirley’s experiences. 


Previously, Schreiber published non-fiction and fiction books but she had not attained a literary and financial breakthrough. In the 1970s, Schreiber wrote Sybil: The True Story of a Woman Possessed by 16 Separate Personalities based on Wilbur’s records and was tailored as a 1976 television show and a docudrama in 2007. Many women wrote to Schreiber expressing they suffered eating or anxiety disorders and sexual and emotional abused as children by males in their past, addressing the primarily male-controlled society. They felt worn out between the conventional female role and new-found feminists prospects that were opening up. Schreiber was displeased about editing the book, Sybil. Now and then, Schreiber warned Wilbur that amplifying Shirley’s upbringing and altering stories was unethical. Wilbur threatened to replace Schreiber if she declined to edit the account, so she had no option but to comply.

Debbie Nathan disclosed the truth in Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case. Nathan revealed that DID is manufactured, whether deliberately or involuntarily, by the therapists, identified as iatrogenesis (junk science). It is customary for clients to communicate their turmoil via feeling depending on culture, availability or circumstances, that there is a foreign entity inside them that does not belong there, whether it is a demon, spirit or a self. As a result, unhealthy hypnosis allows them to behave abnormally. However, if they are victims of iatrogenesis, they need to be educated in a  healthy manner to tackle stress and distress rather than trusting on the misleading belief that alters can bring about survival. Shirley’s physical and sensory problems can be expected from untreated pernicious anaemia, at the time, the symptoms were misconstrued for psychogenic issues. Nathan stated numerous instances of distorted private, professional, and financial limitations, improper interview systems, and unusual prescribing practices, that it is challenging to recognize Shirley’s case as representative of apt psychiatric care.

Consequently, Shirley confessed to Wilbur, “I am not going to tell you there isn’t anything wrong. We both know there is. But it is not what I have led you to believe. I do not really have any multiple personalities; I do not even have a ‘double.’ … I am all of them. I have been lying in my pretence of them.” Nevertheless, Schreiber twisted the genuine confession and authored this was another of Sybil’s personalities speaking. In the 1990s, Herbert Spiegel, a highly praised psychiatrist, testified that he rarely treated Shirley, during those sessions, Spiegel recalled, Shirley asked him if he needed her to switch over to other personalities. When he queried her about what she said, she told him that Wilbur needed her to demonstrate the alter identities.

Accordingly, Schreiber and Wilbur were wealthy and famous after the book, Sybil was published. Nevertheless, the neighbours suspected and brought unwanted attention that Shirley was the Sybil. So, Shirley moved to Kentucky and resided near to Wilbur’s house, who had taken a teaching job at the University of Kentucky. Shirley never wedded or had children, she worked as an art instructor and opened a petite art gallery. Eventually, she moved into Wilbur’s home to assist her as she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Wilbur left Shirley $25,000 and all royalties after she passed away. Shirley died at 75 from breast cancer on Feb. 26, 1998. Shirley’s records were only opened after her death and it was publicized that she was Sybil.

Shirley’s courage and determination paved her path to recovery, also discovered that innovative articulation via art. In the basement of her home, there were over 100 paintings hidden, these paintings referred to as the Hidden Paintings, through the course of 1943 to 1965, between the start of psychotherapy sessions with Wilbur to the year of the effective assimilation of her personalities. Numerous paintings were signed by Shirley and few were autographed by the different personalities, but many lingered unsigned delivering the concrete indication of Shirley’s dissociative states, in which she invented art but did not recognize the masterpieces as her own.

Although Sybil had a happy ending in the book, Shirley became addicted to medications and a victim to both of unfitting psychiatric care and greedy Schreiber and Wilbur, illustrating fictitious recalls of the childhood trauma in order to form a chart-topping book about multiple personality disorder. Meanwhile, professionals concluded the most horrible of the mistreatment never happened.

Thank you for reading, fellow humans.  

67 thoughts on “Shirley Ardell Mason

  1. Childhood trauma is the cause of most of the mental health and personality issues that we develop later in life. I am glad Shirley found the help she needed to allow her to function.


  2. I have heard about this person and her life story before. But I haven’t watch the film yet. You have made such a great article.


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