Lashanda Armstrong, 25, killed herself and her three small children, the youngest 11 months, because her husband was cheating on her. What causes such intense pain? If it were a drug, it would be banned.

 

The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, April 14, 2011. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

What Is the Toughest Withdrawal to Endure?

Meave Ryan stopped Tuesday evening when she saw La'Shaun Armstrong, 10, screaming on the street. She drove with him to the boat ramp where his mother, Lashanda Armstrong, age 25, had driven into the water with his three siblings, ages 5, 2, and 11 months.

Ms. Ryan said that La'Shaun told her why his mother was so upset. "There was an argument about cheating, that his stepfather was cheating on his mother." The man -- father of the three dead children -- had been Ms. Armstrong's high school prom date.

Mental health specialists interviewed on news programs about this horrible case spoke about how Ms. Armstrong was deranged, although she may not have (as far as the therapists knew) consulted or needed the mental health system before.

They said that she was suffering from a psychotic episode where she may have believed that she was doing the best thing for her children.

Another way to look at it is that Lashanda was suffering the horrible consequences of love. If love were a drug, and its withdrawal caused someone to behave this way, every news program in America would be screeching about how lethal and dangerous that drug was.

But few -- if any -- people commit suicide, taking their young family with them (La'Shaun had escaped from the car as it entered the water) when they withdraw from even the most powerful substances.

It does happen with love, though. One famous case was that of Sylvia Plath who, thankfully, protected her children when she gassed herself. She had just separated from her poet husband, Ted Hughes, perhaps due to his philandering.

Feminists and others have long despised Hughes as the cause of such misery. But a poem he wrote at the time was only recently published. In it, Hughes expresses his own anguish at learning of his wife's death, a torment that extended to the core of his soul. After all, theirs had been a famous, intense romance.

Lashanda Armstrong felt she could not endure the pain of her love withdrawal for a moment of life longer. Her judgment was clouded. But what clouded it so horribly that she killed her children?

What caused her pain? She was committed to, enmeshed in a relationship that either wasn't working, or that her partner did not share her vision of. As psychologists, we can imagine such ways of working with Lashanda as to have her separate from her husband, achieve with the couple a mutually acceptable way to conduct the marriage, or have Lashanda cope better with the stress in her marriage or of its dissolution.

These are all real and helpful options. But, some would say, they don't recognize that love is the most powerful addiction of all.