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

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated January 12, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Feeling like a burden to those around you 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. Once you’re able to trace back the origin of why you feel this way, it 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 means that you’re frequently afraid that you’re inconveniencing, annoying, or frustrating other people. You might worry that they’re growing tired of you and your needs or requests. It may make you hold back from being your true self, asking for help, 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 like they’re only worthy of love, affection, or even 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 them a disappointment. 

Or, feeling like a burden could also stem from being given too much responsibility for one’s age during childhood. If it was expected that you take care of yourself and maybe your siblings as well from a young age, it may have taught you that you need to be “pulling your weight” in order to earn the meeting of your basic needs. This dynamic could have made you believe that you should do everything yourself instead of relying on others, which can make asking people for any kind of support as an adult feel uncomfortable.

Low Self-Esteem Or Self-Worth

Some of the childhood situations mentioned above could contribute to having low self-esteem, or it could have another source—such as a toxic romantic relationship, having been bullied, 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 it up is a worthwhile endeavor that can bring a whole host of benefits.

Mental Or Physical Illness

Those who have a mental or physical 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. In some cases, this can make the person with the illness/disability feel like a burden—like they’re asking too much or causing frustration or inconvenience for the people in their life. It may cause them to over-apologize, push their limits, lie about how they’re feeling, isolate themselves, or feel frustrated by their own needs. 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 is the type of thinking that can help you work toward overcoming this feeling.

How To Overcome Feeling Like A Burden

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 it can often bring positive results over time. A few ways to work on this 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

Reverse The Situation

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? If it’s someone you’re close to, especially, you’d likely be happy to offer whatever you could to make them feel safe, fulfilled, and loved. 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.

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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.

Speak With A Therapist

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 focus on noticing flawed thought patterns and then shifting them. 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 accessible option. Research suggests that it’s “clinically efficacious” and offers essentially equivalent benefits to traditional, in-person sessions. Combined with its relative accessibility and affordability, it has become the option of choice for many. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can speak with via phone, video call, and/or online chat. 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 getting 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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