Feeling like a burden can cause serious disruption to our lives by keeping us from sharing our struggles with people who care about us. It can also prevent us from getting close to people in the first place.
Signs that feeling like a burden is having a negative effect on your life include: feeling guilty when you ask someone for help, feeling anxious or guilty for talking about your problems, and assuming that people spend time with you out of a sense of obligation rather than because they enjoy seeing you.
Understanding why you feel the way you do and implementing some tools can help you feel less like a burden and overcome the issue. As a result, it will become easier to have closer and more fulfilling relationships and feel better about yourself.
How to stop feeling like a burden
Feeling like a burden is something you can learn to overcome. A lot of the battle is learning to have self-compassion and prioritize self-care. Recognizing situations where these thoughts come up and learning to challenge and reframe the thoughts into healthier ones can also be quite helpful.
1. Challenge the thoughts you have about yourself
Notice when you’re feeling like a burden and learn to let it go without letting those feelings control you.
Say you need to ask a friend or coworker for help, and you notice that you’re feeling bad about yourself. Thoughts like, “I should be able to solve this myself,” or “they’re busy enough as it is” will pop up.
That’s your opportunity to tell yourself, “There’s my ‘I’m a burden’ story again! Just because I feel like a burden does not mean I actually am one. People like me, and they want to help. I deserve consideration just like everyone else.”
Reframing thoughts in this way can help lessen their power over you.
2. Build up your self-esteem
One quick way to build up your self-esteem is to set small, achievable goals and then let yourself feel proud of yourself for achieving them.
Remember to make the goals small and achievable. The best way to do this is to clearly define what you want to do and ensure it doesn’t take too much time or effort off the bat.
So, for example, instead of saying “I want to get in shape,” which is not clearly defined, you can decide to take the stairs up two flights of stairs to work instead of the elevator once a day.
Deciding to journal before going to bed or when you wake up in the morning, meditating for two minutes a day, or floss every night when you brush your teeth are also small goals that may feel achievable. Remember to adjust your objectives to where you currently are in life and be realistic.
Once you’re comfortable with your new routine, you can add to it. And remember to give yourself positive feedback and validation for the healthy changes you’re making in your life.
For more ways to improve your self-esteem, read our article on how to build self-esteem as an adult.
3. Open up about your feelings
Often, just sharing about the feeling we’re having with someone else makes our problems seem a little bit lighter, even if the person we’re talking to can not offer any advice or practical solutions. That’s why many support groups have rules against “cross-talk.” That means that when a person shares, the other people in the group are instructed to just listen without offering any feedback or advice.
What if you don’t feel you have supportive people in your life to talk to? As you work to improve your social life, utilize support groups (online and/or in-person) as well as online forums.
Reddit, for example, has many “subreddits” aimed at general and specific support. Subreddits like r/offmychest, r/lonely, r/cptsd, and r/mentalhealth can be good places to vent and receive help when you find yourself feeling like an inconvenience or burden to the people in your life.
4. Reframe your apologies
Do you find yourself constantly apologizing? If you’re always saying you’re sorry for everything, you almost convince yourself you need to apologize for your existence. Your language helps set your reality.
Instead of saying, “I’m sorry for rambling on so much,” try saying, “Thank you for listening.” Both you and your conversation partner will walk away feeling more empowered.
5. Remember that others feel the same
Many people feel like a burden, at least at some point in their lives. If we get to live long enough, we all end up having things we think may be “too much” for others: divorce, health problems, mental illness, unhealthy relationships, financial difficulties, career setbacks and employment, and so on.
For example, one survey of terminally ill patients found that 39.1% of participants reported feeling like a burden as a minimal or mild concern, and 38% reported it as a moderate to extreme concern.
6. Examine how you feel about your loved ones
When a loved one comes to you with their problems, do you feel they are a burden? How do you look at them when they are struggling?
We sometimes feel like we don’t have the emotional bandwidth to deal with other people’s problems when we’re overwhelmed with life ourselves, but we still tend to view the people we care about in a positive light.
Instead of seeing them as a “burden” or something we need to “deal with,” we can see that they’re struggling and feel empathy and care towards them.
Likewise, the people who care about you will think positively of you even when you feel like you’re “too much.” Try to believe that they care about you and appreciate having you in their life, even when you can’t feel it.
7. Improve your relationships
If your friends or romantic partner actively contributes to you feeling like a burden, it’s time to take some serious steps to improve the relationship.
It can be hard to separate whether the issue is ours (we take their words too seriously due to our insecurity) or theirs (they are being insensitive or even cruel).
Often in relationships, it is not the case that one side is always wrong, and the other person is always right.
If your partner is making you feel like a burden and they are not open to couple’s therapy, there are still steps you can take by yourself to improve your relationship.
Work to understand how you can improve your communication, learn to set boundaries, and healthily express your needs. If the issue is in your romantic relationship, look up books by relationship experts like the Gottmans.
By improving your relationship skills, the relationships around you will naturally start to improve. You’ll also get better at recognizing which relationships no longer serve you and feel more comfortable walking away from people who make you feel bad and aren’t willing to do the work to create a relationship that works for the both of you.
8. Get professional help
You don’t need mental health issues like depression or anxiety to benefit from therapy. Therapy (and other forms of professional help) can help people facing various problems, including relationship difficulties or low self-esteem.
One thing that prevents people from seeking professional help is not understanding the variety of different therapies that are out there. The media gives us a specific idea of what happens in therapy, where one sits on a couch across from a psychologist and talks about their dreams or their childhood.
While that form of therapy is common in psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapy, today, you can choose from a seemingly endless variety of treatments.
Some therapies may use art, breathwork, or movement to bring a focus on what’s going on for you internally rather than spend the session talking. Other therapists prefer to focus on reframing thoughts or changing behavior, like with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.
Some use different methods of talk therapy. Internal Family Systems, for instance, may have you address different “parts” of yourself and learn to have the “feeling like a burden” part live in peace with the “angry at myself for not opening up” part.
So, even if you’ve had a challenging experience with therapy in the past, give it another go.
If in-person therapy doesn’t appeal to you, online therapy could be a great alternative.
We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and are cheaper than going to a therapist's office.
Their plans start at $64 per week. If you use this link, you get 20% off your first month at BetterHelp + a $50 coupon valid for any SocialSelf course: Click here to learn more about BetterHelp.
(To receive your $50 SocialSelf coupon, sign up with our link. Then, email BetterHelp’s order confirmation to us to receive your personal code. You can use this code for any of our courses.)
Reasons why you may feel like a burden
We often take our thoughts and feelings as fact. We assume that if we feel like we’re a burden to those around us, that means that there is something inside us that is flawed and that we need to fix.
The truth is there are many common reasons why one might develop the belief that they’re a burden to those around them. Understanding these reasons can help you deal with the issues directly.
1. Depression and mood disorders
Depression affects our perception of the world, and one common symptom is believing and feeling that we are a burden. The belief that one is a burden often causes people with depression to isolate themselves, leading them to become even more depressed.
Depression comes with many heavy feelings, like loneliness, despair, hopelessness, irritation, anger, and even suicidal ideation.
People who are depressed also tend to stop enjoying things. The depressed person then feels that sharing these feelings with other people will “bring them down” and cause them to be depressed. Depression tells you things like, “They have enough going on, your feelings will just burden them” or “They won’t understand, and telling them with just make them feel bad.” A depressed person may tell themselves, “Everyone’s better off without me because I am useless and sad all the time.”
2. Anxiety disorders
While anxiety is often centered around particular things, like tests, health, or car crashes, generalized anxiety and social anxiety are also common. Anxiety can cause you to worry that people will yell at you or leave you if you share things with them.
In many cases, someone with anxiety knows their feelings and thoughts aren’t “rational” or grounded in reality, but they still significantly influence their lives.
Often, more anxiety will develop around issues surrounding the anxiety. Let’s say someone feels anxious about phone calls. Over time, they start to avoid talking on the phone to deal with their anxiety. But the avoidance leads to further anxieties, such as “No one will want to be friends with me because I can’t return their phone calls.”
Sometimes, supportive friends and family will help deal with the anxiety-inducing issues (like calling the doctor for them), but the anxious person will often feel guilty that people do things for them.
3. Low self-esteem
While low self-esteem can be tied to depression, anxiety, and a tough upbringing, it can also exist independently.
Low self-esteem can have you believing that you’re not as important as other people. Consequently, you may feel like a burden when you share things that are going on in your life or “take up space” in some other way. You may feel like your personality or presence is a bother to those around you and may even question if your friends are really your friends.
4. You felt like a burden growing up
Sadly, many of our parents could not meet our emotional needs as children.
When we cried, our parents might have tried to get us to stop crying rather than understand why we were feeling the way we were. Or they would get angry at us if we were angry. As a result, we may have learned to suppress our anger.
Perhaps our parents were not around due to divorce, mental illness, working long hours, death, or various other reasons. In some cases, when they were around, they were distracted, irritable, or going through too many things to be able to be emotionally present for us.
In some cases, parents seem more concerned with their children’s achievements than their inner world. Or you may have had a large amount of responsibility at a young age, needing to take care of younger siblings, the house, or the family’s financial situation.
This type of upbringing is called childhood emotional neglect, and one common symptom is feeling like we are deeply flawed inside or a burden to others. Feeling like a burden to our parents early on becomes embedded in our belief system, even if we don’t have specific memories of feeling like a burden, and even if our parents could meet our physical needs.
In some cases, emotional neglect from childhood can lead to Complex-PTSD.
5. You’re in a difficult situation in life
Sometimes we find ourselves behind our peers in significant ways. For example, maybe our friends and acquaintances are getting to a point where they’re advancing in their career and making substantial money while we feel stuck in a dead-end job for low pay.
A friend may occasionally pay for you, causing you to feel guilty. Or maybe they would like to go on vacation with you, but you can’t afford it, while their other friends can. In cases like this, we may feel like we’re a financial burden because we can’t afford to go out with our friends the way they’d like to.
You may be disabled or dealing with severe physical or mental health issues, leaving your partner to deal with physical tasks around the house. These situations are tough to deal with because there’s an objective truth that’s impossible to ignore.
6. People around you treat you like a burden
Sometimes we find ourselves in relationships where our partner isn’t able or willing to meet our emotional needs. Your husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend may intentionally or unintentionally treat you like a burden.
If your romantic partner invalidates your feelings when you’re sharing what you’re going through or complains about helping you with things, for example, it makes sense that you’ll start to feel that you’re burdening them.
What mental illness makes you feel like a burden?
Feeling like a burden is a common symptom of various mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and CPTSD. But many other physical and mental health challenges can leave a person feeling like they are a burden to those around them.
What should I say to someone who thinks they are a burden?
It can help to remind them that they aren’t a burden no matter how they’re feeling. Tell them that you enjoy their company and that their worth does not depend on their mood or situation in life. If you relate to their feelings, sharing can help remind them that it’s OK to struggle.
Well when several good friends say you’re exhausting (do to your mental health issues) walk away because they aren’t your friends.