Feeling Like A Burden? What It Means And How To Overcome It

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Feeling like a burden to those around you, including family members, friends, children, or other loved ones, can make it hard to be your authentic self and ask for what you need. This feeling is relatively common and can have many different sources. Being able to trace back the origin of why you feel this way may help you start to overcome it so you can feel more at ease interacting with those around you.

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What does it mean to feel like a burden?

Feeling like a burden can mean you’re frequently afraid you’re inconveniencing, annoying, or frustrating other people. You might worry that others are growing tired of you and your needs or requests. The feeling may hold you back from being your true self, asking for emotional support, or setting boundaries. Even if those in your life reassure you that you’re not a burden, the creeping feeling of doubt can still make itself known. 

What causes this feeling?

The concern that you’re burdening those around you is a feeling that can have a few different origins. It may be something you’ve felt since childhood or something that’s developed more recently. Let’s take a look at some of the most common sources of feeling like a burden.

Parental expectations from childhood

The way someone was raised can cultivate their sense of being a burden from a young age.

Parents who hold a child to high standards may make them feel as though they’re only worthy of love, affection, or even just having their needs met if they perform perfectly in every way. Perhaps it’s been communicated to them that failure or mistakes—from getting a low grade on a test to not making a sports team—would detract from their fundamental worth or lovability.

This sentiment can even be expressed indirectly, such as, “The Smith’s son just got into Harvard; aren’t his parents so lucky?” or “The Smith’s son failed calculus; I’m so glad we don’t have to worry about that with you, straight-A student!” Over time, repeated statements like these can subtly communicate that one’s parents are hoping for or even expecting perfection from their child and that anything less will make that child a disappointment. 

Or, feeling like a burden could also stem from being given too much responsibility during childhood. If it was expected that you take care of yourself and maybe your siblings from a young age, it may have taught you that you need to be “pulling your weight” in order to earn your place in your family, or even basic necessities such as food or health insurance.

This dynamic could have made you believe that you should be responsible for everything yourself instead of relying on others, which can lead to feeling uncomfortable when you seek emotional support as an adult. 

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Low self-esteem or self-worth

Some of the childhood situations mentioned above can cause individuals to develop low self-esteem as adults. Or a low self-esteem could have another source—a toxic romantic relationship, experiences with bullying, a strict religious upbringing, or strong cultural messaging. Believing that you’re fundamentally not enough or not worthy of positive things can result in you feeling like a burden.

Implementing strategies to build your self-esteem over time can help you feel more comfortable and empowered to ask for what you need and accept love. Plus, research shows that high self-esteem correlates to “success and well-being in life domains such as relationships, work, and health”, so building your self-esteem is a worthwhile endeavor that can lead to a whole host of benefits.

Physical or mental illness

Those who have a physical or mental illness or disability may need additional care and support from those around them in order to get their needs met. It also may not be possible for them to offer the same kind of support in return. For example, people living with symptoms of depression may have a hard time cooking, cleaning, or otherwise caring for themselves. To provide support, their families and other loved ones may help complete these tasks.

In some cases, this situation can make the person with the illness/disability feel like a burden—like they’re asking for too much or causing frustration or inconvenience for the people in their life. It may lead them to over-apologize, push their limits, lie about how they’re feeling, isolate themselves, or feel frustrated by their own needs. 

The same concept may be true in the aftermath of an addiction to drugs or alcohol. During recovery from addiction, a person may feel like a burden, or they may recognize the burden that addiction put on their family and friends. Remembering that everyone needs help sometimes and that you enrich the lives of those around you in many ways, regardless of how much help you need, can help you work toward overcoming this feeling.

How to overcome it

There are a variety of different strategies you can try to overcome the feeling of being a burden to those around you. Read on for a few ideas.

Build self-esteem

Since low self-esteem is a cornerstone of this feeling in most cases, working to build your self-esteem can often bring positive results over time. A few ways to work on increasing your self-esteem include:

  • Repeating positive affirmations daily
  • Spending more time with people who make you feel loved and appreciated
  • Setting achievable goals and tasks and completing them
  • Challenging negative thoughts when they appear and replacing them with positive ones
  • Cultivating healthy habits, such as eating well and exercising
  • Joining support groups where you can connect with a community of people who may be coping with the same challenges and can validate your feelings

Remember that you deserve emotional support

Sometimes, it can be helpful to imagine if the situation were reversed. If someone you love was asking you for help, support, or space the way you’re asking them now, how would you feel? You’d likely be happy to offer whatever you could to help them experience safety, fulfillment, and love.

Thinking about situations this way can help you remind yourself that you’re just as worthy of being loved and having your needs met as they are and that the people you love want to support you just as you want to support them.

If you’re struggling to reach out for help, know that there are many different types of resources that can provide support. Mental health treatment, which we’ll discuss further below, can help you process complex emotions related to your self-worth. You can also search for online communities dedicated to helping members address low self-esteem or similar concerns. The following are additional resources that you can utilize if you’re urgently seeking support for specific challenges:

Reframe your apologies

People who feel like a burden to others will often find themselves constantly apologizing for expressing their needs or accepting help. Next time you’re tempted to take this route, consider pausing to reframe your apology first.

For example, instead of apologizing for being a few minutes late to meet someone, you could thank them for waiting. Putting a positive spin on the sentiment may help change the way you think over time. It can shift your perception from you asking for help or understanding to other people offering help or understanding because they care about you.

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Seek emotional support through online therapy

Connecting with a mental health professional can be a powerful way to start shifting the narrative in your head that you’re a burden to others. Especially if you receive cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the most common method today and the “gold standard for psychotherapy,” your provider can help you identify and replace negative thought patterns.

The premise of CBT is that thoughts cause feelings, so adjusting warped thoughts—such as the notion that you’re a burden—can help you avoid some negative feelings. A trained mental health professional can also help you sort through any past trauma, build self-esteem, and improve your communication skills to enable you to better ask for what you want and need. 

Depending on your preferences, you can meet with a therapist in person or virtually. If you prefer to seek therapy from the comfort of your own home, online therapy is an available option. Research suggests that it’s “clinically efficacious” and offers essentially equivalent benefits to traditional, in-person sessions. Combined with its relative availability and affordability, it has become the option of choice for many.

With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist whom you can speak with via phone, video call, and/or online chat. You can also contact your therapist outside of sessions, through in-app messaging. Whatever therapy method you prefer, know that there are professionals out there who can help you with the challenges you may be facing.

Takeaway

Feeling like a burden can be taxing because it may prevent you from having your needs met or asking for help when necessary. Plus, it can cause you stress to be constantly worrying about whether you’re inconveniencing someone. The strategies on this list may help you start to shift this thought pattern over time.

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