A Selfless Mom’s Awakening

A Selfless Mom’s Awakening

Yesterday, JewishMOM Tamar Stone left the following wow of a comment:”This past Shabbos i was sitting and feeling very sorry for myself. My internal dialogue kept telling me that i was losing my sense of ‘self’ after all these years of being a wife and mother. I heard that little voice keep whispering that i was no longer a real “person,” but just a robot that only gives and doesn’t get enough in return to validate my ‘self’…
“Then i davened, and asked Hashem to please send me a sign that i was worth something…
“Soon after, i picked up a book that was lying around and read some nice stories extolling the virtues of a great rebbetzin and began to notice something. It seemed that every story contained the word ‘selfless’ to describe her wondrous deeds.
“And suddenly it hit me: by constantly giving of myself as a wife and mother, i am NOT being ‘erased.’ I am being SELFLESS–which is a virtue.
“It took ONE WORD to turn around my negative thinking. Just ONE WORD!”

This comment reminded me of a mindblowing TED Talk I watched yesterday (thank you, Hadassah Aber for sending it) called “Change Your Mindset, Change Your Game” by Stanford professor of psychology, Alia Crum.

Professor Crum talks about the remarkable physical and emotional impact of our mindset.

In one Italian study, a group of patients recovering from thoracic surgery were given an identical dose of morphine. But different group members received the morphine in different ways. Half the group had the morphine injected by a doctor at their bedside. Another group had the morphine administered through their IV, without their knowledge.
Incredibly, there was a dramatic difference in the painkilling effect of the morphine between the two groups. In contrast with the patients who knew they were receiving the morphine, the patients who received morphine without knowing it reported much lower or even no reduction in pain levels. These results were repeated with other medical treatments–for anxiety, for hypertension, for Parkinsons. In each case, a major aspect of the medications’ impact on patients was knowing they were the taking medication.

In another study, researchers wanted to see if exercise would have the same health benefits if people didn’t know they were exercising. So they did research on a group of people who get a lot of exercise, but often don’t realize that fact: hotel maids.

Harvard researchers asked a group of 84 hotel maids, who regularly spend hours a day on their feet engaged in physical labor, if they get regular exercise, and two-thirds answered “No.” Then the researchers measured all the hotel maids’ weight, body fat, blood pressure, and satisfaction from their job.

And then, like in the Italian study, the researchers divided the group of hotel maids into 2. Half the group was shown a straightforward 15-minute video about how their work cleaning hotel rooms was exercise. And a month later, the researchers came back and found that while the group that hadn’t seen the video was unchanged, the group that had seen the video had lost weight, had a significant drop in blood pressure and body fat, and reported liking their job more.
Remarkable, right? Taking medication or getting exercise is not enough. We need to know what we are doing when we are doing it in order to get the maximum benefit from it.

And what about us moms?

How do I the view the time I spend with my kids, managing my home, cleaning, cooking, doing what a JewishMOM does day in, day out.
As Tamar put it, is my selflessness a curse or a virtue?
Will my family, will I, be pulled up by my hard work or pushed down?
The decision’s in my hands. Or more exactly, in my mind.


  1. great article, chana jenny!

    one of my friends read it and commented to me: “we are so much in our head we don’t even know it.”

    i always say that we each live in a bubble. that we each live in our own heads and that is the challenge of communication. how to get that picture out of our heads and into someone else’s head without distortion…

  2. amazing article!great hizouk especially in the mist of the summer vacation!

  3. Wow!Reading this is very empowering.It seems to me that mindset is influenced by words (ie. ‘selfless’ rather than ‘erased’).

    • that is the idea behind the psychology of Rational-Emotive Therapy and similar versions; that a person’s feelings /perceptions are guided by their thoughts. Change your thoughts, change your feelings.
      it is best explored in Chabad Chassidus under the theory of Moach she b’Lev, or The Brain Controls the Heart.
      It is the secret of the survival of the Jewish People throughout the generations. Our “peoplehood” exists mainly in our minds, so that we may be dispersed and diverse, but we all know that we are one people…

  4. Does that mean its all in our heads? Pain medication does nothing and you could give water to someone and if they think its a painkiller they will feel better?
    Can you eat cake all day and if you think its healthy you will be healthy?
    Can you be a couch potatoe and if someone convinces you its great for your abs then you will lose belly fat?

    • JewishMom

      I was wondering the same thing, so I looked at the ted talk again, and found the answer in the final few lines:
      dr. crum says:
      “Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that medicine doesn’t work, or that there are no benefits of exercise, and that what we eat doesn’t matter; it does. But the psychological and physiological effect of anything in our lives can and is influenced by our mindset.

      “So is the power of mindset limitless? Probably not, but what I hope I’ve done for you today is inspire you to reconsider where those limits really are, because the true task ahead is to begin reclaiming this power for ourselves, to acknowledge the power of mindset and know that just like this, in just the blink of an eye, we can change the game of any facet of our life, quite simply by changing our mindset.”

  5. There is a movie out now called The Farewell. It is true , funny and quite incredible story about a Chinese family who doesn’t tell their grandmother she is dying….I heard the original story on This American Life… it is truly amazing and related very much to this discussion regarding awareness of our physical and emotional state…..

  6. Having said that, I actually personally disagree with Tamars conclusion (tho I am happy for her that she feels that way and was strengthened by it)….i don’t see the word selfless as a virtue. I think generous, compassionate,sensitive, thoughtful, charitable….are all virtues. Being selfless is almost as if there is no actual thought or value to the giving itself because there is no value to the SELF. If ones self had no value then how can the recipient appreciate the compassion shown to them? How does one love thy neighbour as thyself if you have no self? There is no shame in being aware and desiring of our own needs!!! There is no shame in needing to receive from others…. selfless people often have difficulty receiving from others: which is a shame because without people to receive there can be no giving…..noone needs to be selfless. We just need to be as open to others needs as we are to our own.

    • I completely agree with what you said in that if you have no connection to your self, then how can you show compassion etc. I struggle with that idea and actually have found those stories of elevated Rebbetzins can be harmful, not helpful, for my growth if they give me the (false) belief that I need to totally erase myself. Because it’s only through myself that I can do good in this world.
      Having said that, I read Tamar’s comment differently and so I also completely agreed with it. So often our thoughts get hold of us and make us FEEL like we are nothing. I understood she meant selfless in the sense of giving, empathy, loving connection, not in the sense of letting go of you totally.

      By the way, interestingly, I was just reading studies on PubMed on sending kids to a gan vs keeping them at home (I happen to be very keen to have kids at home as long as possible but wanted to see the “evidence”). Actually seems like all the studies I found didn’t support either way as much better than the other (you can do your own research on PubMed if you want to see them). What actually came through again and again instead was that an emotionally healthy mother/emotionally healthy parenting is what really counts. I.e whoever we are, whatever we believe about these hotly-debated areas (nursing/formula, gan/home, co-sleep/cot etc), WE are what matters the most. It might feel like we are “nothing” but actually our kids’ emotional world is built from your emotional connection to them. That is so so awesome!

  7. I opened up to see if there was any response and was thrilled to see yours. I agree with you totally and was even afraid to say out loud that I too find rebbetzin stories of selflessness harmful sometimes in that I feel overwhelmed and minimised when I read them…. and then remember my SELF and realise I can’t compare to them. Because I am not them. If I had no sense of self I wouldn’t be able to do that… but so interesting that Tamar found comfort In that. Power to her! As long as we can be compassionate to ourselves we can go a long way….
    And love what u said about kids schooling….
    Great post Chana Jenny!!

    • believe me, I’m the LAST one to think i could possibly reach the level of these exalted Rebbetzins!
      I enjoy reading about them because they are living examples of HOW to put into practice the ideas encapsulated in the mitzvos. Seeing is understanding…

  8. Selflessness or ‘bittul’ as described in Chassidus, is a positive trait to strive for, but one needs to understands what it is.
    When a person recognizes that he is ‘y’tzir kapov (formed by the Hands) of Hashem Yisborach, that his soul contains a ‘chelek Elokah mima’al mAmash’ a quintessential portion of G-dliness, and his existence is constantly being renewed every moment by G-d’s will, then he knows who he is and why he is here and that he has a unique G-d-given mission in this world. His self-worth is not dependent on anyone else, there is no need to feel threatened by what others do or don’t do, say or don’t say, and he doesn’t feel that anyone is stepping on his toes or crowding him out.
    Every experience becomes an opportunity, everything around him becomes a lesson to apply.His mind rules his heart,his goal is to move forward, he doesn’t get bogged down by emotions, he has no grudge to anyone, and he is thankful to Hashem Yisborach with his whole being.

    • thank you, Mina, for better explaining my interpretation of the word: selfless

      in a subsequent discussion based on this post, i explained to a friend that this idea of selflessness is based on the chassidus of bittul.

      the idea behind my comment is as Keren surmised: it’s about the power of words affecting our mindset.
      I used this episode as an example of that. I could use any number of episodes to support it. Please don’t get stuck on the word “selfless” itself. please learn the lesson behind it:

      the words we use to think about a situation DO influence our perception and feelings about that situation. This is a liberating idea. with this knowledge, we can choose to guide our feelings towards a more positive take on any situation, thus steering us away from feeling helpless about it.

  9. This is so profound. Thank you, Chana Jenny, for uplifting us and our families by reminding us of our important role and noble goals. The ripple effects are far reaching… Yishar koach!

  10. Agreed: I was recognising the fact that a word can absolutely have influence on our power of perception: just was reflecting about the meaning of the particular word “selfless” to me as an individual….the main thing is to be able to turn around our self criticism in whichever way we can, I suppose. Everyone finds inspiration in a way that relates to their soul….I guess.

  11. how nice to wake up early on a busy Friday and read a conversation among some of the most intelligent and tuned-in women I know

    tuned in to Hashem, to their leaders and teachers (in the case of Tamar and Mina, surely the Lubavitcher Rebbe), to their families, and to themselves


    thank you

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