Effective Coping Strategies When You Feel Like a Burden

feel like a burden to others

Chronic illness symptoms can make it difficult or impossible to perform basic activities unassisted. It’s not uncommon to feel like a burden when you must depend on others. This article will provide coping strategies so you can feel better about yourself while getting the help you need.

how to cope when you feel like a burden

What does it mean to feel like a burden?

When someone feels like a burden, they feel like the people they rely on for help are annoyed or inconvenienced by them.  

Other feelings connected with feeling like a burden are guilt, shame, embarrassment and feeling apologetic.

Feeling guilty

Dependency on others can tip the scales in a relationship. This can cause the dynamics of the relationship to change. 

Roles can reverse as in the case when the caretaker parent must depend on  their children.  Or when a spouse who once handled the lion’s share of domestic responsibilities must depend on their partner.  Or maybe an adult child is forced to rely on their parents. 

In either case, a sense of guilt can develop. You may feel like you have failed others because of your inability to perform at your prior capacity.

Feelings of shame and embarrassment

The shift from being in control of yourself and your environment to being dependent on others can weigh heavily on your psyche. Especially when it comes to personal care.  

Relying on others to assist with the most intimate of needs can be a source of shame and embarrassment.

Asking for help makes us feel vulnerable. We tend to equate it with weakness. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

In fact, it takes a strong person to put their pride aside, stand up to fears of being rejected or denied, and ask for help.

Low self-worth

Some people have symptoms so severe they are unable to work. Or they must work abbreviated hours. Some people must switch careers altogether because they can’t perform at levels they once did.

In either case they may need to depend on others financially.  The loss of financial independence can result in a diminishing sense of self-worth.

Feeling apologetic

Sometimes it’s hard for others to empathize with something they’ve never experienced. They may make  insensitive comments or imply you can do more than you do. 

Maybe your loved one reacted  in a negative way.  A sigh, a frown or delayed response are often interpreted as disapproval or unwillingness to help. 

Sometimes, there’s no particular reaction. You just feel bad vibes coming from their side of the room.

When someone makes you feel like a burden, you may feel like you’re walking on eggshells.

As a result, you may find yourself constantly apologizing to others. 

Feeling frustrated and isolated

Feeling like a burden may cause you to avoid asking for help. Instead, you take on more than you should. You stretch yourself beyond your limits. You downplay your struggles. 

In the end, you feel frustrated and isolated. You may feel as though no one cares. You may become hard on yourself. Negative internal messages have a way of perpetuating. 

How to Cope When You Feel Like A Burden

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Utilize Positive Self-Talk

The first place to start when you feel like a burden is with your mindset. Start by replacing  negative internal messages with positive thoughts.   

Remind yourself that you  are valuable in spite of your circumstances.  Imagine you are talking to a close friend. Be gentle, compassionate  and encouraging. 

Positive affirmations is one method that has been shown to improve self-worth. By repeating positive statements about yourself you can overcome self-defeating thoughts.

Get mental support from family and friends 

When people feel like a burden they tend to isolate themselves. Talking about your feelings to others helps in 2 ways.

First, by releasing the emotions connected with negative feelings, you release the weight of it. Second, others can help reframe your negative thoughts and provide a different perspective.

Joining a support group can help you to connect with others who understand what you’re going through.

Sometimes as much as you try not to, you may still feel like a burden to others. Therapy can provide you with the tools you need to have a healthier perspective.

Stop apologizing  

Apologizing constantly sends the wrong message to others and to your own subconscious. It says, “I’m not worthy of receiving help. 

Oddly enough, apologizing constantly can have the opposite effect then what as intended. 

When you apologize constantly, the apology loses its value. The person becomes numb to the apologies.  Instead of understanding, the person you’re apologizing to may become apathetic.

Apologizing also reinforces any guilt or shame you may be feeling. 

Instead of apologizing, an occasional “I appreciate you” can  go a long way in improving relations. It creates feelings of warmth and connection without demeaning yourself.

Change your focus

It’s easy to become hypersensitive when your chronic illness leaves you vulnerable. But don’t take the reactions of others personally. Their reactions are not necessarily about you. It might just be about “it”, with “it” being the situation.

Your loved one may feel a little weary. They may even have other stresses in their life.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for help.  Understanding others’ perspective will help you to better understand their reactions. This may help you feel less self conscious.

Strive for open communication

If others continue to make you feel like a burden, it may be time to discuss your feelings. Start a conversation at a neutral time, not when you need help.

Let them know, without passing blame or judgment, how you’re feeling. Listen while they express their feelings.

You may be surprised to learn that they’re unaware of how they come across. They may be unaware of your reluctance to ask for help. 

Either way, communication can help bridge the gap between the two of you.

Stop undervaluing yourself

Being a single mom, I was a one-woman show. I bought all the groceries and prepared all the meals.

After each knee surgery, I felt like a burden to my teenage children. I felt like I couldn’t do anything. Soon after I began pushing myself, doing too much too soon.

In hindsight, I was capable of doing a lot more than I gave myself credit for. However, there were definitely limits to what I could do.

Had I assessed what I could and couldn’t do, my recovery period would have gone a lot smoother.

Assessing what you can and can’t do will allow you to set the expectation for yourself and others.

Be realistic with yourself. Assess your stamina, mobility, strength, how long you can stand, and whatever else needed to perform a particular task.

Remember you are not alone 

Everyone needs someone at some point in their lives. There may have even been a time when the people you rely on, relied on you. The fact of the matter is we’re all human, with highs and lows, good and bad. 

If you can, remember the times when maybe you helped others. Not to keep score, but to serve as a reminder that you are human, and  we all need help sometimes. This is just your season of needing help.

What to say to someone who feels like a burden

If someone you know feels like a burden, it’s important to let them know they are cared for. Encourage them to open up. For example, you can say, “You sound pretty upset. How does this make you feel?”.

Keep in mind, it may be difficult to change how someone feels. Feelings are often deep-rooted and fueled by internal messages. 

However,  showing empathy can help to minimize their distress.   For example, you might say,  “I understand how you might feel that way”.  Another suggestion is to say, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this”.

Let your loved one know they are not alone and that you support them. For example, “I’m here for you” or “What can I do to help?”

You’d be surprised at how soothing and comforting these words can be.


It’s not uncommon to feel like a burden when asking for help due to chronic illness. Exercising self-compassion, getting support from family and friends  and keeping the lines of communication open with caretakers can help to minimize these feelings. Finally, whether you’re a caretaker or chronically ill , we’re all in need of compassion.