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How To Not Be A Burden (Or Be Burdened)

Heavy loads are transported across the world every day. What does it mean to be a burden?

How To Not Be A Burden (Or Be Burdened)

My partner and I have lived with my 89-year-old mother-in-law for the past five years. She has some dementia causing her to forget things including some basic elements of taking care of herself. We are there to support her.

This feels like the right thing to do and most of the time it doesn’t feel like a burden at all. But here’s where I sometimes feel burdened.

When She Thinks, “I Don’t Want To Be A Burden”

Taking care of aging family members is nothing new to us. We have been there for my grandmother, my father-in-law, and my step-father in different ways. Having to walk slower, having to cook and clean for them, having to be patient with memory issues, these things don’t feel like a burden. It’s why we’re there.

But here’s what ironically does feel like a burden at times: when the person “doesn’t want to be a burden,” and therefore doesn’t accept the help they need. Then, it becomes more difficult. Not only is there the physical job that needs to be done but the emotional job of trying to do it while the person is fighting you because they don’t think they need your help.

That’s a tough one to navigate because helping them means doing what they don’t want you to do (bathing, eating, taking medicine, etc.)

So my advice to myself if I ever get to be that old is to allow others to take care of me if I need it, to not insist that I’m still fully capable when I’m not, and to loosen my grip on my sense of independence. I can imagine it would not be easy to do, but I hope with a bit of work I will be able to accept the aging process gracefully.

In The Meantime, How to Not Be Burdened?

My partner and I did The Work recently on the thought, “She should accept the aging process.” Of course, if she did, our jobs would be much easier. (Again, this is a note to my future self.) But the reality is that she sometimes doesn’t accept it. How to make peace with this?

What we found when going through the four questions and turnarounds meditatively on this statement was that her not accepting the aging process is also a part of her aging process and we need to accept this. Why should we be okay with cooking and cleaning but not be okay with her pretending she doesn’t need our help? A decrease in physical ability and denial of that loss naturally come together, especially in the case of dementia. Ignoring this, we are the ones arguing with reality.

So doing The Work on this one statement opened something in my partner and me. We started seeing even her stubbornness as normal and understandable given her condition. And a growing softness in us is allowing us to be more patient with her. 

How About You?

Where do you feel burdened? Where do you feel like you’re being a burden? In either case, you can question your stressful thoughts and find some balance. If you feel burdened, maybe you are not as burdened as you think. And if you feel l like you are a burden, maybe you are not as much of a burden as you think. 

There’s no substitute for doing this inquiry yourself. Follow your stress and question the thoughts connected to it. It can be surprising and relieving to explore in this way.

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Have a great week,

“I resented my mother for being ill for so long. I resented the burden she was for my dad and me. I used to suffer because I thought she was so ungrateful to those of us who sacrificed our lives to take care of her. After questioning my painful thoughts about her for several months, I realized that I was a fraud! I wasn’t acting out of love for her, I was getting attention for being the ‘suffering good daughter’! I was making up this grand story so that people would sympathize with me, and all the time I could barely stand to hear my mother’s voice on the phone. Once I caught on to my delusions, I was able to see this perfectly beautiful woman who had been ill most of her life, and who was strong and independent and full of love.” I Need Your Love, Is It True? by Byron Katie

Further reading: Surgery: An Exercise in Surrender

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.