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“I Feel Like a Burden” — 4 Ways to Reframe Your Feelings

One of things that can impact our mental health are the lies we tell ourselves. It’s not a new concept at all, but it was one that resonated with me, because the lie I tell myself makes me feel broken. I feel like a burden to my family, and sometimes everyone around me.

Feeling like a burden to someone else is deep, and it is deeply painful. And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Sad woman feels she is a burden to her family.

Here are some thoughts and feelings you might have when feeling like a burden:

  • I keep asking my parents for money, and they’re getting sick of it, but I’m struggling.
  • My depression is affecting the people around me and they’re pushing me away.
  • I’m not a very good mom. I’m holding my kids back and they would be better off with a different mother.
  • I’m constantly talking to my husband about issues I’m having, and he’s probably getting sick of it.
  • I want to talk to my family about our country’s political situation, but they keep shutting me down.

You might be asking yourself “Why do I feel like a burden to my family?” We don’t have to feel this way. We don’t have to feel like a burden to others around us.

First, if you’re feeling like a burden to others and you think it’d be better to the people around you if you were gone, HELP IS AVAILABLE. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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*Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and do not offer this as medical advice. This is my own personal experience and I encourage everyone to seek advice from their doctor before making decisions about their health. To view our full disclaimer policy, click here.

What does “burden” mean?

“Don’t start your day with the broken pieces of yesterday. Every day is a fresh start.”

Healthy Place

We all know that a “burden” is something that you carry. But according to dictionary.com, “burden” can mean: 1) that which is borne with difficulty; obligation; onus, 2) to load heavily, 3) to load oppressively; trouble.

Those are some loaded words. Difficulty. Obligation. Oppressive. Trouble.

This implies that your mere existence causes trouble, oppresses those around you, and makes the lives of others more difficult. That they only care for you out of obligation.

The Psychology of Feeling Like a Burden

Often, our feelings of inadequacy stem from our childhoods. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you come from a broken family. Even children who come from good parents and good families can end up feeling this way because of expectations place on them or emotions that weren’t communicated effectively.

Here are 3 things in your childhood that could have caused you to feel like a burden:

1.) The feeling of conditional love

Child crying and receiving conditional love from her parent

When we think of real love, we often hear the phrase “unconditional love“. Conditions are “situations with respect to circumstances”. Unconditional love means that you’ve released expectations of someone and love them regardless of whether they fit your own ideals. This is regarded as the highest form of love.

In contrast, conditional love is:

When we … want them to look, act, and think in ways that fit our own paradigms and expectations. We hold others accountable to our expectations in order to qualify for our affection.

The Power of Oneness

The unfortunate thing is that our parents can use tactics of conditional love without even knowing it. Hearing judgments about others in our childhoods can have extreme consequences.

For example, if your parents say things like:

I’m so thankful for you. Sandra’s daughter just got knocked up by another black man out of wedlock, and I can’t imagine the stress she’s going through.

On one hand, your mother is thankful for you. BUT there are conditions attached. She’s thankful BECAUSE you haven’t had children outside of marriage. She’s thankful that you’re not in a mixed-race relationship. She’s thankful because she doesn’t have to worry about you because it’s a burden. That doesn’t even begin to take into account the racism and classism that you’re being exposed to.

This tells you that if you ever do any of these things, that you might receive less love. You are going to cause your mother to worry, to feel judged, to carry the burden of you.

READ MORE: How to Feel Better When You Don’t Know What’s Wrong

2.) You may be feeling like a burden because of high expectations

Parents yelling at a girl doing her homework. High expectations could be a reason for feeling like a burden to others

High expectations can similarly make us feel that we’re a burden to those holding the expectations. According to Psychology Today, when parents don’t have reasonable expectations, it sets the child up for failure. How many people have heard things like:

  • “You should be able to do this by this age!”
  • “You should be earning As! You’re so smart!”
  • “You shouldn’t be throwing tantrums like this, I’ve raised you better!”

Feeling like nothing we do is ever good enough can be majorly detrimental to a child’s self-esteem and mental health.

3.) A Large Amount of Responsibility at a Young Age

Mother and toddler reading the newspaper. Expecting children to have too much responsibility too early can be detrimental

Responsibility is the “state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone”. In the previous two examples, someone tried to exert control over your life, either subconsciously through their words or through unrealistic expectations. In this example, a child has too much responsibility or control according to their age or emotional maturity.

So how much is too much responsibility for kids to handle? Read the linked article to learn more about kinds of responsibility that children CANNOT handle.

When a child is given too much responsibility or is expected to be independent at a young age, it teaches them that they cannot rely on others and that they must act much older than their age in order to be loved. If you tell yourself “I feel like a burden”, you might have had too much responsibility at a young age.

RELATED:
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My Story: The Effects of Feeling Like a Burden

My feeling that I am a burden on my family spurred all kinds of additional toxicity in my life, including my first marriage. It was almost as if I thought that if I could fix my ex’s psychological problems, I would be worthy to be relieved of the title of “a burden”. I would have done something helpful, something important! When I spun my wheels trying to help him, all I did was get stuck in the mud that much deeper.

This lie even took a toll financially as I have always been a spender, looking for a new way to impress people, to prove people wrong, to prove that I was worthwhile and respectable. 

The belief that I’m a burden to my family has made me a people-pleaser. I was always so focused and worried whether someone liked me that I never stopped to wonder if I liked them. It is not uncommon for me to hold my tongue when I disagree with someone, even on the smallest thing.

This was how I lived my life for the longest time. Even now, having become aware of my lie and working to alter it, I find myself stuck in its clutches.

Deciding to Stop The Cycle of Burdens

At my 6 week postpartum midwife visit for my second son, I brought my oldest along. He wanted to push around anything with wheels, including the blood pressure machine and cart with all the doctor’s tools. I immediately apologized to the nurse who had shown me into the room for M’s destructiveness.

She put a nurturing hand on my arm and said, “He’s exploring. That’s how they learn.”

I have never felt so ashamed in my life. Not only was I doing the same walking-on-eggshells/people-pleasing that I had always done, but I was inadvertently projecting that onto my 19 month old. I would NEVER want my children to grow up feeling as if they are a burden to their family, so I have been more than mindful about it since this has happened.

READ MORE: How to Meet Someone Where They Are

Here are 4 Tips to STOP Feeling Like a Burden

I have been actively working on changing this mindset, and so far it has been working. Here’s what I’m doing to help lift myself up and release when I feel like a burden to my family and those around me.

1. Talk it out

Talk it out when you feel like a burden

Find someone that is close to you that you can trust. Someone that you know will listen and respond with love. Luckily, I have a husband who is great at listening objectively. Make sure you find someone who will validate your feelings. If they don’t, they aren’t the right person to talk to. Your feelings are ALWAYS valid.

Explain how you feel. Tell them, “I have realized that somehow I feel like I’m a burden to the people around me. It’s not you, it’s probably something in the way I was brought up. I just have these feelings.”

Even when you are having other feelings and you are feeling ashamed to bring them up, remember that when we bottle our emotions, they can manifest as all kinds of other maladies. You might get pain or tension, you might have trouble sleeping, or you might put on weight.

I can think of no other change that I have made that helps me more than talking with someone I trust. I have been in therapy many times in my life for just this reason.

If you are having a difficult time thinking of someone who you can trust, perhaps finding a therapist would be beneficial. I have actually been wanting to try the Talkspace app. There are a number of therapy apps that work the same way. You wouldn’t even have to leave your home.

2. Catch your feelings when they happen

Catching your feelings when they happen is a great way to stop feeling like a burden

When you realize that you might be acting in a way that sells yourself short, makes yourself feel small, or tries to blend into the background, stop for a moment.

Say to yourself, “I’m feeling like I’m being a burden right now.” Even just recognizing and naming the emotion can be hugely powerful.

Then step back and tell yourself. “I am not a burden.” Take a deep breath in and let it out. Let go of the feeling. Then continue wherever you were.

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3. Let go of fear

Let go of fear

If you’re like me, you fear being a burden. So you not only need to let go of feeling like a burden, but also of the fear associated with it.

The people who are in your life who are meant to be there will not feel that you are a burden on them. They will ultimately want to love and support you.

There may be those so-called “friends” and perhaps narcissistic family members who do in fact let you know that you are a burden on them. If this is the case, you probably need to reevaulate whether they should be in your life. There are myriad resources for children of narcissistic parents and setting boundaries. (Try reading here and here.)

When you realize that the problem often lies with the other person and not you, it’s a little easier to let go of the fear. (Only a little…)

4. Stop apologizing & Reframe Your Response

Reframe your response as a thank you instead of I'm sorry

One of the first things that happened when I projected my own feelings onto my son was that I apologized for his behavior. And it wasn’t even something that needed to be apologized for.

I find myself apologizing often for things that are out of my control, things that are completely normal, and things that are within my system of values and beliefs.

Apologizing takes away your power of control over your feelings and the situation. True apologies should happen only when they are really necessary.

When you find yourself wanting to say you’re sorry, catch that feeling, just like you did when you realized you were feeling like a burden. Catch it, recognize it, and let it go.

Reframing your response as a thank you can have a huge effect. For example:

From: “I’m so sorry that I’m late…”
To: “Thank you so much for your patience.”

From: “I’m so sorry my child is being destructive…”
To: “Thank you for helping my child pick up the mess he made.”

Apologizing implies that you did something wrong. Whereas saying thank you validates that the other person did something for you, but it shows gratitude and positivity. This gratitude and positivity can help you find more balance and depth of meaning for your life.

RELATED POST: Learn How to Set Healthy Boundaries (A Guide for Women)

A few more things that helped me

  1. Get out of your head. The more you dwell, the more upset you get. Try to live in the present moment.
  2. Find the simple pleasures of life to draw you out of this feeling.
  3. Get your health in order. I never feel psychologically good when my body is in poor health.
  4. Use affirmations to stay positive. Check out these affirmation cards.
  5. Practice self-care every day.

Conclusion

There are many people in this world that tell themselves the lie that they’re a burden. I want you to know:

You are not broken.

Just because you’ve likely had some things in your past that contributed to your feeling this way doesn’t mean that you will always feel like this. You aren’t alone, and there are definite steps that you can take to erasing this response from your repertoire of behaviors and thoughts.

Show yourself some grace and love.

You are worthy of being here, worthy of being with your family, and worthy of being loved and appreciated for who you are! Step into a healthier frame of mind.

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What to do when you're feeling like a burden: 4 Techniques to reclaim your power. Pinterest Image.

Zanah Amay

Monday 20th of September 2021

Thanks for the tips. I have been staying at my sister's place for about a month due to construction at our family home, and I decided to stay a bit longer there - my sister and BIL were a-ok with it - parents not so much. They were kind of upset about it, but they ended up agreeing with me.

I went to dinner there over the weekend, and they just kept trying to make me feel bad and make me feel like I'm a burden to my sister, and now all I feel is like I'm also a burden to them too. But I have always felt like a burden to them because I also have chronic asthma and severe allergies so it's been tough.

I think I need to leave, but I also don't have much saved up unfortunately. I think they depress and discourage me, and they don't even know it.

These tips are really helpful. So thanks again for them. I think I will need them lol 2021/2022 is about to get a bit rough it think.

Julia

Sunday 6th of June 2021

That's a good article, thank you

123

Sunday 25th of April 2021

I think as a parent when my children grew up and left home, I became a burden. They call out of obligation even though they love you. I have lost my purpose and am just a retired factory who did its job. I raised 3 fabulous kids and am now just a source of worry. That's when you know.

Dawn Perez

Monday 26th of April 2021

I'm so sorry you're experiencing this. It must be painful. In our modern society we have a tendency to think of people as expendable once they hit retirement and are "no longer contributing to society" and that's simply not right. My own dad was very bitter about having to help his elderly mother so much before she passed away, and she was bitter about his feelings and pushed him away. The whole situation made them resentful of each other and caused a lot of pain.

I think the key is knowing that we have value inherently and not just what we have contributed to society. Try learning something new or doing things for fun. Your purpose doesn't have to be something big--your purpose can literally be just to experience life!

Aleksander

Wednesday 10th of February 2021

I just wish my mom would read this and agree with it and try to change. I hate feeling like a burden but my mom never recognizes her manner of speaking. She makes me feel burdensome, then tasks me with things I might need help with.

Dawn Perez

Thursday 11th of February 2021

I'm sorry that your mom won't recognize that how she speaks to you is hurtful. My parents also don't recognize how the things they say are deeply painful to me. I've gotten better about speaking my truth and standing up for myself to them, but it is very difficult. Remember that your experience is valid. No one can tell you that she doesn't make you feel like a burden.

Elisa

Wednesday 30th of December 2020

With ANOTHER friendship breakup, I again feel like the problem, the cause, the burden... just like I have so many times in the past. I don't know how to stop this relentless cycle.

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