Laying Down the Burdens of an Over-Functionalist

Defining Over-fucntionalists

Do you find yourself being the pillar of strength that family, friends, and even romantic partners commonly depend on? From the viewpoints of other’s, you appear to have it all together. Unknowingly, you’ve found yourself in the role of upholding the expectations of others. If this sounds familiar, you may be finding yourself in the role of the “over-functionalist.

Those in this role may be a direct source for advice, financial support, or take on 100% of the responsibility for their lives and others. Many often refer to you as the one; the educated one, the strong one, the responsible one, the caring one, and the list goes on. And for some odd reason, you have inadvertently accepted this role and cultivated your life around it. 


Often, you’re in situations thatleave you feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Complaining of the demanding nature this role requires is never an option, for fear of making others feel your frequent discomfort. Not many people check on“THE ONE” in their lives, and these individuals tend to suffer in silence. For those who feel as though you’re barring the weight of the world with minimal understanding, know that you are not alone. A difference can be made, and the weight can be lifted, but it starts with you.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
— Maya Angelou

Recognizing When to Ask for Help

Asking for help can be perceived by some as a sign of weakness or an inability to simply manage. For those who identify themselves as the over-functionalist, seeking assistance appears much harder, often because of projection that others will not be able to manage stressors as you do. After all, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed so long as others don’t; right? This is an internal battle that many suffer in silence daily.

Stress is an inevitable part of life however too much can negatively impact one’s emotional and physical capacity to function. Asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness. In fact, asking for help shows a high level of self-awareness and insight to recognize that additional support is needed. There are other factors that impact one’s ability to seek help, such as cultural worldviews. For instance, some cultures view the family system as a fully functioning entity to deal with all its member’s needs.Therefore, the frequency or knowledge of outsourcing is not a skill some are versed in. Other factors include past experiences and how readily available help was made.

Photo by  Allie Smith  via Unsplash

Photo by Allie Smith via Unsplash


Lisa Ferentz LCSW-C, DAPA (2017) suggests the following questions be considered for those struggling to ask for help:

  • While you were growing up what kind of messages did you get about asking for help?

  • Did your family place more value on “doing it yourself” or “letting others in?”

  • When you did attempt to reach out in childhood, how did the people in your life respond?

Help comes in many forms, identify which type of help best benefits you. Pay attention to mental and physical signs that you’re becoming overwhelmed. Recognizing when your load is too heavy shows positive insight.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, stress affects your entire body, mentally as well as physically. Some common signs include:


trouble sleepinG

jaw pain

Changes in appetite

mood swings

difficulty concentrating


Photo by  Kinga Chichewicz  via Unsplash

Photo by Kinga Chichewicz via Unsplash

The Benefits of Self Care

Many of us have heard the importance of self-care, but does the idea of achieving it seems near impossible? For the overly busy, stressed, and the overwhelmed person managing all of life’s obstacles including that of others, self-care is typically a missing element in day-to-day life. Before self-care can be obtained one must first understand what it is.

The essence of self-care is paying attention to YOUR wants and needs on an emotional, mental, and physical level. Placing yourself as a top priority and ensuring you’re cared for is not egotistic in any fashion. For over-functionalist, this can be a difficult mindset to uphold because thinking of self is such a farfetched idea. Feelings such as guilt tend to arise when others are not at the top of your priority list. Implementing self-care minimizes the occurrences of burnout and fatigue. How do I manage self-care? That’s the beauty, it’s based on YOUR needs. Self- care does not have to be a grandiose event or a huge time consumer. Maria Baratta Ph.D., L.C.S.W (2018) identified 10 regulatory activities to help exercise self-care in her article for Psychology Today titled, Self Care 101:

1- Self-care means knowing who you are and your limits. Self-care means recognizing when you are doing more than you are used to handling and trying to figure out what can be done to slow down.

2- Self-care means getting the sleep you need and knowing how to rest. Are you getting enough sleep for you? Do you know how much sleep you require everyday and are you sleeping at least that much?

Photo by  Magalie De Preux  via Unsplash

Photo by Magalie De Preux via Unsplash

3- Self-care means making sure that you're well fed. Do you eat well—does what you eat provide the energy you need to function?

4 -Self-care means finding a way to decompress throughout your day, not just when you leave work. What is it you do to rest your mind during and after a workday? What helps you tune out the noise?

5- Self-care means giving some thought to changing a difficult work situation. We know best what we need and what we can deal with. Is there anything that can be done to make your work somewhat less stressful? Think about whether changes can be made to your work environment.

6- Self-care means taking time to get to know you better. Self-care means learning to recognize your own temperament and trying to prepare for your personal limits. For example, do you have the trait of "high sensitivity? and if so, learning to recognize when you are experiencing sensory overload.

Photo by  Rifqui Ali Ridho  via Unsplash

Photo by Rifqui Ali Ridho via Unsplash

7- Self-care means identifying what you enjoy doing and what's fun for you and make a serious effort to integrate it into your day or, at the very least, your week. Make it a habit to plan something to look forward to every day and that doesn't have to be complicated.

8- Self-care means knowing how to debrief from a day's work. That might mean walking home from work to clear your head, driving in silence or listening to music to help transition from work to home.

9- Self-care means feeding your spiritual self. That might take the form of meditating, praying, communing with nature by a walk in a park, observing a sunset or sunrise, attending a religious service, practicing gratitude, reading or listening to something inspirational.

10- And finally, self-care means taking time to love yourself and appreciating that there's only one you and you're the expert on that.

I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival
— Audre Lorde

Implementing Balance and Change

The route of change for an over-functionalist may not initially be easy, yet it is possible. A helpful first step is to hold others accountable and increase their responsibilities. What does this look like? It may mean not rescuing a family member or friend for the 20th time, not voicing all your opinions, and allowing them to fully manage the consequences of their actions. Engaging in therapy can be a helpful tool to overcome personal feelings of guilt and to develop healthy communication skills. More than anything, establishing new boundaries and sticking with them will be key.

Meet the author: Brittany Spencer, LGPC


Brittany Spencer, LGPC, is a therapist at Space Between Counseling Services. Brittany works with clients in the Charm City area as they manage stress, grief, LGBTQIA+ related concerns, and more.

Brittany’s integrative therapeutic approach has allowed her to interact with the young and older adult population to increase self-awareness, educate about community-based resources, and strengthen coping skills. Within a safe and compassionate environment Brittany strives to increase the autonomy of her clients.

While not working to evolve her counseling skills, Brittany enjoys outdoor activities. As summer approaches, she enjoys 5k races, bonfires, and community festivals.  She loves attending WNBA basketball games, bicycling, and watching America Ninja Warrior with her fiancé.