017: How to Show Kindness to People in Pain, with Shaunti Feldhahn

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When someone has to cancel due to migraine, it’s a huge gift for somebody to say “No problem! And I am so looking forward to doing this. Let’s try something next week.

Shaunti Feldhahn

Author and Relationship Expert

SUMMARY

“Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle” is especially true for people with invisible illnesses like migraine. People in pain often have a tough time telling others how they can help them, and showing kindness when they feel awful. Yet Shaunti Feldhahn, a top relationship expert and researcher, says that showing and receiving kindness can make us healthier and happier.

3 KEY POINTS

  • People in pain often need help, but need to be open to receiving kindness from others instead of building a wall around themselves. Tell others how they can help you.
  • Migraine is a multisensory experience that affects sight, sound, touch, smell, affecting how we experience the world during attacks and in between.
  • Shaunti’s research shows that we’re not quite as kind as we think we are. She offers a free “Kindness Challenge” to improve our relationships and our health.

Show Notes

Shaunti Feldhahn: Some of my friends who have suffered from migraines there tends to be, at least in some of them, almost this it’s my burden to bear streak of independence. If we start down this road I’m always going to be the burden, and I don’t think that’s true. I think that there are truly close friends and spouses who want to be there and need the person to actually be willing to share what they need.

Paula Dumas: Do you ever wish that someone would help you through your next migraine attack without you having to ask, or find yourself snapping at the people you love? You’re not alone, according to today’s guest, we’re not as kind as we think we are. And she should know, she’s researched how we actually treat each other and the impact it can have on our mental and physical health. Discover the surprising healing power of giving and getting more kindness in your life when we meet her right after this.

Paula Dumas: Known as the relationship whisperer Shaunti Feldhahn helps people thrive in life and relationships through her social research, which she shares as a popular speaker and best selling author. Her books have sold two million copies in 24 languages. And she frequently talks about her groundbreaking discoveries on national television and radio programs. Her newest book, The Kindness Challenge, demonstrates that kindness is the answer to pretty much every life problem, including our health. It’s sparking a much needed movement of kindness around the world. Shaunti, welcome to Migraine Again.

Shaunti Feldhahn: It’s great to be with you.

Paula Dumas: It is great to have you here, and full disclosure, Shaunti and I have known each other for years.

Shaunti Feldhahn: A lot of years.

Paula Dumas: Yeah, a lot of years. One of the most popular articles on Migraine Again, on our website, is called “21 Thoughtful Things to Do for People with Migraine.” And it’s not about random acts of kindness by strangers, but very intentional acts of kindness by people who know someone with migraine and maybe need a little inspiration to be truly thoughtful. Based on your research, why would you guess that there’s so much interest in it?

Shaunti Feldhahn: I think honestly, it’s because everybody knows this culture has just gotten so unkind, and it’s hard. It’s a hard culture to live in, I think we’ve all bemoaned that, right? And it’s sort of this, there’s something I can do, it’s just this great feeling to have this sense that I can do this. And it’s not a random act of kindness out there for the world, which is great, this is for somebody I specifically know and care about.

Paula Dumas: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah so we’re drawn to kindness. And sometimes we need a little help, I think, finding our way on practical ways to be kind. If you haven’t walked in someone’s shoes, it’s hard to know what they really, really want, what they would really, really value. And if you’re going to make the gesture, you want it to land and be valued, right?

Shaunti Feldhahn: Yes, very much so. And having known very, very close friends who deal with migraine themselves, I’ve only had one, I feel like God gave me one migraine in my life so that I could sympathize and empathize with my friends. And knowing, I have one friend who would literally, she would have to go to the hospital and be begging them to knock her out because she just couldn’t handle it. And I always feel so helpless, what can I do? I love this girl, what can I do to help her? And so there is a great power that comes from feeling like I can help somebody else. But you know what, if you’re suffering with migraine, there’s also I think a great power in having some opportunity to go okay I don’t like this, but I can really get my mind off of it by really focusing on helping other people.

Paula Dumas: That is incredibly true. I have found that on those days when I have, what we call on the pain scale around a three or a four, I don’t feel like I can produce anything of value, but I feel like I can do something kind for someone else. Like make something for them, and that physically makes me feel better. It is a good way to cope. And it thrills me to pieces that people love this article, because it seems like in this era of kind of tweet shaming and hate crimes, we all need more kindness in our lives.

Shaunti Feldhahn: Well we all need more kindness. But here’s really what I’ve found in the research, because this is, as you know, all of my stuff is based on these big research projects, right? And in this case, what I realized somewhere along the way is that all of us think we already are kind, and we don’t realize we’re actually a little deluded. And we really, truly don’t know what it looks like, or how to develop this so that it becomes habit. And that is really what I felt like I could bring to the table, is what can you do to develop a habit of kindness in your own life so that first of all it’s healing for you? But also, it’s truly healing for the culture? It’s just we already think we’re doing that kind of stuff, and we just don’t realize we’re not, we need to completely retrain our brains.

Paula Dumas: Mm-hmm (affirmative), that is true. Your book starts with a quote, “Be kind for everyone you know is fighting a great battle,” which is a wonderful quote. And people with migraine fight an invisible battle every single month, if not every single day, for many. Why do you think kindness is important to kind of shift the culture?

Shaunti Feldhahn: Well here’s really what I’ve found in all of these research studies that I’ve done over the years. This came about, this study came about because one thing happened. I looked back at all the other studies that I have done over the years, and this is the eighth big nationally represented study I’ve done. And I realized my job, I sort of feel like my calling, my job, is to help people learn the little things, investigate the little things, dig out the little things that are really going to make a huge difference in helping them thrive in their life and thrive in their relationships. And I realized there is one common thread running through every single one of these studies, because they were all specific to … For example, one of them was to help women understand men, or helping parents understand their kids for example. But as I looked through them all, I realized the common denominator of whether you thrive in your life and your relationships.

It turns out it is far more correlated to how you treat others than how you yourself are being treated. And especially when you’re not feeling well, especially when you’re in pain. When you’re dealing with something that’s a chronic condition, like migraine for example, it’s so easy to try to focus on “I need my space,” and “I need this to happen.” And all of that is completely understandable. “You’re not being fair to me, and you don’t know what I have to deal with.” And all of those things are completely understandable thoughts, but it turns out that actually what’s going to help you thrive is if you flip it and you figure out how can I be kind? It is astounding what that does in our mental and emotional health, and some studies have actually talked about it changing our medical health.

Paula Dumas: Yeah, I believe it, I believe it. Let’s unpack some of your most surprising findings.

Shaunti Feldhahn: Yeah, absolutely.

Paula Dumas: First you discovered that we’re not quite as kind as we think we are. Is that kind of like we’re not quite as good as we think we are?

Shaunti Feldhahn: Yeah. What we ended up discovering is that there’s three things that if you do them every day it retrains how you think, and that’s when you start realizing that we’re not as kind as we thought we were before. And what we call it is the 30 Day Kindness Challenge, and there’s three elements to it, and let me explain what those are. First you pick somebody that you want a better relationship with. And especially for somebody who’s dealing with something chronic like migraine, it really is important to pick somebody that you see every day, or that you interact with regularly, so that it’s easy. So that it’s not a heavy lift to start this process. Somebody like your spouse, or I did the 30 Day Kindness Challenge for my 16-year-old daughter, she was 16 at the time. And let me tell ya, she’s a great kid, but she’s 16. She can roll her eyes with the best of them and my head wants to explode.

What you do is with that person, whoever it is, the colleague who drives you nuts, whoever it is, you do three things for 30 days. You first say nothing negative about that person, either to them or about them to somebody else. And that is often where we sabotage how we feel about somebody in our life. For example, let’s suppose I do this for my husband. And if he’s driving my absolutely crazy, I can maybe be polite to him, but if I go to my girlfriends to work and I complain about him, I don’t realize it but I’m sabotaging how I feel about him. I’m putting these negative thoughts in my head, like I need more negative thoughts if I’m already suffering from migraine, right? I’m adding to the negativity, I’m adding to the pressure in my mind.

And so that’s the first thing that you do is you say nothing negative about that one person for 30 days, either to them or about them. The second thing that you do every day for 30 days is you find one thing that you can sincerely praise, you find one thing that you can sincerely affirm about them. And you tell that person that, and you tell somebody else. For example, I can’t complain that my husband left his stuff all over the floor. But I’m looking for things to praise, and so I notice you know what he came home early to help the kids with this complicated homework thing, and I say “Thank you” for that. And then I go to my girlfriends and work I’m like, “You know what he did yesterday, he came home early to help the kids.” And I don’t think of it this way, but what I’m doing is I’m focusing on those things that are excellent, and lovely, and worthy of praise. Rather than the things that are worthy of driving me crazy, and I’m going to see them a lot more.

Paula Dumas: You’re cementing it in your brain rather than-

Shaunti Feldhahn: You’re cementing it.

Paula Dumas: … hoping to ricochet off the girlfriends back to the husband.

Shaunti Feldhahn: Exactly, you’re cementing it in you, and you’re also basically ensuring you’re going to see it a lot more. And oh by the way, you’re not part of transforming the culture, because instead of contributing to the negative “Oh guess what my husband did?” “No, what did my husband do, well let me tell you about this one.” Instead of that, I’m actually now contributing to the positive, I’m completely changing the tone. It’s really awkward after somebody shares something really positive to start complaining. The third thing that you do every day for 30 days is to do one small action of kindness of generosity, to do one small action that makes a difference. And you may think it’s just so little it’s not going to make a difference, but what we found is that these little actions, they do make a difference because they’re kind of subconsciously telling the other person: “You matter.” And you’re telling them that, and oh by the way, you’re telling yourself that.

It may be something little like, okay my daughter, I did the 30 Day Kindness Challenge for her. And one of the things that’s a common dynamic is I’ll be in front of my computer frantically typing on a deadline, I’ve got something I have to turn in. And she’ll come in and she’ll have some funny little YouTube video she wants me to watch for five or six minutes. And it’s really easy for me to go “Not now honey, I have to make this.” And then I realized, okay part of the 30 Day Kindness Challenge, do an action of generosity. It’s a simple little action of generosity to take my eyes off the screen for five or six minutes and watch and laugh at this YouTube video with her. And it’s not going to be the end of the world for my deadline, but it speaks volumes to her.

Paula Dumas: Mm-hmm (affirmative), tells her that she matters.

Shaunti Feldhahn: It tells her that she matters, and it tells myself that she matters. And you know what, when you are dealing with a difficult relationship, and let me tell you a lot of your listeners probably have experienced that sometimes migraine, that can really cause problems in their relationships. Whether it’s their migraine or somebody else’s, because it’s just difficult to deal with chronic illnesses, it just is. And so causing those heartaches and causes those issues that have been sort of raised up over the years. When you have that kind of tension, no matter how much you don’t want it, if it’s there a bit something like this goes a long, long way towards if you do all three of those things it brings so much freedom into your relationship, so much life. We actually found that if you do those three things for 30 days, 89% of relationships improved.

Paula Dumas: Well I’ll take that stat to the bank. You’re absolutely right, I think hurting people tend to hurt others. And migraine does throw a wrench into many relationships, and sometimes it can lead to divorce for some people, and definitely fights, and misunderstandings and all kinds of things. But one of the symptoms of a migraine attack, especially in the first phase, which is called the Prodome, one of the symptoms can be irritability. Not for everybody, for a lot of people we get a little snarky. How do we effectively apologize, either in word or in deed, when we don’t really intend to behave badly, it’s just our brains?

Shaunti Feldhahn: Oh gosh, listen one of the things that we have seen in all this research over the years, and this is not just with the Kindness Challenge, this is everything. Is that in most cases people love when somebody recognizes that someone wasn’t themselves, they were having a bad day, or having a bad migraine, or they were just starting that process and there was a clinical thing happening. It makes such a difference if they come to somebody else, come back to their spouse, or their child or whatever, and they just have whether it’s a sheepish look on their face, and they say “I’m so sorry.” Or whether they have some little code that means I’m sorry, it makes a difference.

And I’ll give you an example of this. One of the other books, and I know you’re aware of this Paula, but one of the other research studies I did was on the factors that make the happiest marriages. Like why are the happiest marriages so happy? I write this book about the secrets of the happiest marriages, and one of the things that we found in there is that one of the common little habits that they don’t even know matter is that they share a mutual signal that signals okay I was out of line or there was a problem here, but we’re okay. This problem, whatever the problem is, it may not be resolved, but we’re okay. A little make up signal, and I’ll give you ours.

Paula Dumas: Okay.

Shaunti Feldhahn: Because I kept seeing this on the research I was doing, the focus groups and the interviews, and I’m like oh my gosh Jeff and I do this. And we didn’t realize that it was so important, but statistically this is something really important to creating a happy marriage. Where if Jeff, this is just his example, if Jeff is the one who is kind of snarky, or if he’s the one that is a little irritable, or something’s happened with his company, or he’s just not feeling well, or whatever and he’s kind of snapping. I’m trying to stay out of his way because of that, about maybe half-an-hour later, an hour later, whatever it is, sometimes in days past it would be a day later, he would come up to me and he’d like of do this mock punch of mock push and go “You done being grumpy yet?” It was his way of going I can’t believe, he’d say “I can’t believe I was such a jerk, I’m so sorry.” And that little signal is something everybody loves.

(CONTINUED) …

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