Many of us are taught early in our childhood that others’ problems and needs are more important than our own. We are taught that adding our needs and problems on top of these “very important” peoples’ very important problems is “wrong” and burdensome. It’s even a reason to feel guilty and ashamed for having such problems and needs. There are two typical outcomes when you feel like a burden in childhood: you become overly independent and proud of it, or you are always dependent and ashamed about it.
A lot of people unconsciously develop the attitude that they must do everything themselves and never ask for help. Later as they become adults they are even proud of their degree of independence. But this pride is a bandage over the wounds of abandonment and rejection that were experienced early in life. Yes, it is great that you are self-sufficient, but do you have the courage to be vulnerable and ask for help? Do you have what it takes to need and depend on others?
On the other hand, some people are unable to develop independence and fall into the trap of being perpetually dependent, but are also perpetually ashamed about this. Because they were shamed and guilted for having needs in their childhood. If this has been your case and it doesn’t enrage you, the situation is even worse because it means that you have accepted that you and your needs are not as important as others.
In all cases, you have accepted that it is your responsibility and your role to be there for others when they have needs and problems, but you must either disappear or feel guilty when you have needs. You must sacrifice yourself and go the extra mile to be there for others, but you cannot expect or even ask them to be there for you. You have to minimize yourself, even become invisible — until you are needed.
This is the predominant attitude of the people-pleaser, the savior, the noble helper.
Rationally you may realize there is no logic to any of this. Everyone’s needs “should be” important. And no child “should be” made to feel like they are unimportant or that they are a burden on others. But “what should be” is very different from “what is”. The reality is that we are constantly made to feel like we are imposing ourselves on others — and it is not ok to do this. It is wrong, it is selfish, it is “narcissistic”. Many people swing to the other extreme to pretend that they have no needs, pretending they are selfless and always there for others. And worse yet, society celebrates this fake selflessness as a virtue. What you don’t realize is that the pretense only makes your inner world smaller and more miserable. On the surface you may get all the validation in the world, but inside you are dying just a little more each time.
Healing Deep Roots Requires Hard Work
The conditioning of this pattern is so strong that it cannot be reversed and healed just by intellectualizing it. It cannot be reprogrammed just by repeating some positive affirmations like “you are worthy”, or “your needs matter”. It also cannot be fixed just by acting the opposite. Because the opposite is entitlement, and both these polarities are rooted in the same wound, they just look different on the surface. Entitlement where we demand the world to conform to our expectations is just another symptom of having very low self-worth. Because entitlement rarely manifests the results we are expecting — usually it just brings disappointment and victimhood.
This superficial rationalization and acting will only help you change some behaviors that you are aware of, but deep down you will continue to feel unworthy. You still unconsciously enact all of this in more ways than you can imagine. These wounds create patterns that manifest in all aspects of our life and healing them requires digging in and working on the roots.
I say all this from personal experience and working with many people — this doesn’t change simply at the mental level. These are deep-rooted cultural traumas and healing requires rescuing the parts of you that have been programmed to believe they are unworthy. Healing these requires changing the way you interact with the world, with the people who are dearest to you, because these are the very people who keep unconsciously reinforcing these disempowering patterns. This healing requires you to create boundaries with the people who have been walking all over you your entire life and who have no real respect for you. This may sound preposterous but it is proven very quickly once you start attempting to make changes.
It is common to expect that the people you love will respect your new-found sense of self-worth, but the reality is that they will do everything in their power to keep you disempowered. They will try to convince you that you are overreacting and exaggerating and things are not as bad as you think — basically just saying you are crazy to want to change the way things have been your whole life. You don’t need to believe me, you will see for yourself how people react when you start changing long-established power dynamics.
Why even call it a burden?
Why is it important to phrase it this way? Because a part of you will always feel like you are burdening others. Some people will try and convince you with words that you are not a burden. And if that works for you, great. In my experience with many people, that is not enough. Just telling someone “your needs are important” or “I am worthy” doesn’t work because you are deeply convinced that you are a burden, to a level beyond words and mind. And even if you tell yourself you are not a burden, there will be times that you actually are a burden, what happens then? When you allow yourself to be a burden, it doesn’t matter if it is just perception or you are really a burden, you are accepted both ways.
Being alive, having a presence, having a personality, having needs, having desires, having goals, making actions, all of these have a “weight” — this is your weight, not in the physical form but in the energetic form. This weight impacts others and may inconvenience others. You may do your best not to make others uncomfortable but the question is, why are you so concerned to make everyone comfortable?
Allow your “weight” to bother others, allow your actions to inconvenience others. Let them deal with their emotions without you having to take them on as a burden.
Giving yourself this permission is a liberation from a dark ancient psychological prison that has kept humans trapped for eons. When you stop feeling guilty for having needs and desires that inconvenience others, that is the first time you are truly free to be yourself and enjoy life. Until you consciously give yourself this permission you will keep suffering unconsciously because the culture will keep reminding you how you are “bad” for not being more selfless and being too selfish.
The Return of the Savior
(Hint: It’s not what you think)
For those whose self-worth has been diminished and destroyed, they automatically put others needs over their own.
The wound can manifest in different ways.
One is the savior. Another is the oppressor.
The savior will put others needs ahead of their own. This makes them appear noble, humble, kind, and a lot of other nonsense. The savior is just avoiding dealing their own wounds. In reality, the savior is unworthy of direct attention. The only way for them to get attention is by doing things for others. This is the real reason they go above and beyond, they will do anything for the scraps of attention they can get at the heels of others problems. And the way they will help is to keep the victim disempowered so that the savior is always needed. As long as the victim has problems, the savior has attention. The savior survives on second-hand attention.
A convenient piece of the puzzle is the oppressor. Someone to blame. Presenting: the oppressive narcissist. But the narcissist is just another wounded victim who acts out their wounds differently.
Those who have been deeply wounded can become overly demanding oppressive “narcissists”. How is that? Because narcissism is not a disorder, it’s a survival mechanism arising from deep wounds, of being ignored, abandoned, and rejected to such a high degree that this person goes to the other extreme of making sure their needs are always prioritized and met. This may look like healthy self-worth on the surface, but appearances can be deceiving. There is no balance. The narcissist can only see their needs, but this is because they have deep needs that are unfulfilled, and until those “real needs” are fulfilled, they cannot be there for others.
The reality is not on the surface, it is not in the visible appearances. The reality is what drives the superficial behavior. Narcissists may look confident and they may appear to have an abundance of self-worth and self-respect, but they are deeply insecure in their core beliefs about themselves and others. Very often they will push people in ways that will lead to the fulfillment of their unconscious prophecies of abandonment and rejection.
Demonizing narcissists is part of the cultural narrative to create an archetypal enemy that can be blamed. But this narrative disempowers everyone. Not only the narcissists, but also the “victims”. With such an “evil” force, the average human is incapable and powerless to find a solution, they must await the almighty savior who will swoop in to rescue them from the big-bad-narcissist. Instead of helping people connect through healing and compassion, culture polarizes us to hate “oppressive narcissists” and “victim-y weaklings”. Our only hope according to culture is to be saved by the religious, political, and militant saviors.
When we heal ourselves, we see the real wounds in others, the real causes of their behaviors. And no matter what labels society puts on them, through this fresh lens we can break out of the endless polarizing loop of victim-oppressor.
Compassion is not the same as pity, it doesn’t oblige you to sacrifice yourself or feel sorry for others. It allows you to see them for who they really are rather than seeing them through the cultural lenses you have been given.
When we understand the real motivations of actions, we can change our attitude and that will shift the entire situation. Rather than getting offended and feeling self-pity, we can help to balance the situation. This is a true leader, not one who is just in a position of leadership based on some arbitrary title. Be a real leader rather than coveting a title that enslaves you into some artificial role where you are supposed to behave a certain way.
Everyone is Suffering..
until they have healed their wounds.
Even then we are not invulnerable because life keeps happening. These idols who claim to be immune to suffering are nothing more than a living story for sale. What are they selling? An illusion full of false hope.
A psychological/emotional wound can express itself in many different ways. It depends on the depth of the wound, the environment in which the person was wounded, the models available for learning, and various other factors.
A lot of people feel alone in their struggles with self-worth, shame, guilt, and other emotional issues. The reality is that most of us are struggling with these issues, we have just been programmed to cover it up and present a mask. And everyone buys your mask because it is convenient and comfortable, because they don’t want the burden of dealing with your problems. Seeing you cry and be emotional is reminding them of their pain so they prefer you to pretend that everything is ok.
If there are evil forces in the universe, they found the perfect recipes to create hell on this planet. We pretend to be ok even when we feel like shit, just to make others comfortable. But that just makes others feel like shit because they think they are alone in feeling like shit because everyone around appears to be “fine”. So everyone suffers while pretending to be ok.
The culture keeps telling us that being a burden is the worst thing we could do. It tells us “we must behave proper”, “we must be able to take care of ourselves”, “we must be able to deal with our own shit in our private space”, never make your shit public because you will be shamed and guilted till the day you die. We are creating human-time-bombs that do not have the permission to explode. And they do not have the permission to diffuse themselves. If you do not feel like shit, it must be because you are privileged, and then you must feel like shit because of your privilege. There is literally no way out of suffering if you listen to culture.
What does healing look like?
Giving yourself permission to be a burden means being someone who can express their needs, who can ask for help, and who can get what they need. If the people around you are inconvenienced by your needs and they are not willing to accommodate you, it is time to realize that you are in an unbalanced relationship. This can be within a partnership/marriage, a friendship, a workplace, a community, or any other situation. If your needs are not worthy of their time and energy, are they worthy of you?
We have to also keep in mind that there has to be a balance. We have to manage our expectations and be reasonable. We also have to use our power to satisfy those of our own needs that we are capable of fulfilling. We have to also respect that others have their wounds and their limits in how much they can do for us. You may be asking someone for something they are incapable of providing. We don’t have to cut people out just because they cannot give us everything we ask for.
We have to figure out the balance we are happy with. And this keeps shifting as you keep healing and growing. You may have accepted certain situations at one time but realize that you have changed, and so the situation needs to change with you as well. Wanting to change things is part of “being a burden”. It will inconvenience others when you change, and they will want you to stay the same old you because they get what they want. When people have your power, don’t expect them to hand it back on a gold platter (even more entitled than expecting it on a silver platter).
Establishing your power means enhancing your self-worth to a level where you can afford to have the power you desire.
This is a challenge. Just declaring your boundaries to yourself and others is not enough. Setting boundaries can be challenging but it is nothing compared to maintaining boundaries. Smart people will accept your stated boundaries and yet walk all over them because they can see you don’t yet have the power to maintain your stated boundaries. It’s like an unarmed nation emailing a military superpower “to stay out” because it is immoral to enter without permission. This guilt-trip-boundary may work on some people but most others will not respect the boundaries of someone who doesn’t have the power to enforce those boundaries.
This is the real work. Realizing that you are not entitled to have the world abide by your beliefs and standards. The real work is developing the power to real-ize your intentions with your will and action.
If you want to grow or change, you can make that your intention, but don’t complain that it is too hard. A lot of people wish for great power and also expect it to be easy. Life will bring you the lessons required to materialize your intention, and many of those lessons may be unpleasant and uncomfortable, because they are showing you exactly what needs to change – You, Your Attitude, Your Beliefs. The lessons will be easy if you are flexible enough to change, but if you are rigid and stuck in your ways, change will be challenging. It is literally as painful and challenging as uprooting a tree that is deeply grounded. The more you are rooted in your habits and beliefs, the greater is the effort required to change.
The beauty is that the people who go through this journey come out as compassionate leaders. They know what it is like to feel invisible, to feel like a burden, to feel unworthy. Once you have gone through the process of healing, you can help the invisible become visible. This is what I am doing with this post today. I felt invisible and unworthy of having needs for a very long time, and many times switched to an overly entitled defiant version, which never really got me what I really wanted. The key is in finding balance. Today I can express and fulfill my needs and get help for my problems, because I give myself the permission to “be a burden”.