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Andrea Anderson Polk’s Blog

Clinically Practiced, Biblically Informed

  • Writer's pictureAndrea Anderson Polk

Do You Have a Toxic Relationship with Yourself? 10 Ways We Self-Sabotage

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

Woman sitting looking out a window perhaps pondering 10 ways we self-sabotage.

In a previous post, I created 10 questions designed to help you identify if you are in a toxic relationship. The toxic relationship in your life does not have to be a relationship with another person; it can be the toxic relationship you have with yourself. Meaning, your places of pain show up as an internal battle rather than an external relationship.

So instead of a person who continues to hurt you, use you, or take advantage of you, it is your own unhealthy behaviors, defenses, coping mechanisms, and toxic thinking patterns that are keeping you stuck. Understanding this dynamic can help prevent you from shaming yourself when you keep ending up in the same places over and over again.

The following questions will help you identify if you are in a toxic relationship with yourself:

  1. Is there an area of your life that began as a passion and has increasingly grown into an obsessive preoccupation, crippling perfectionism, or worse, an addiction? (For example, your to-do list, social media, work, volunteering, exercise, cleaning, online dating, shopping.)

  2. Is there an area of your life where fear of rejection and failure is preventing you from doing that thing you really want? (For example, writing that book, starting that business/ podcast/ blog, taking that sabbatical, getting involved in that ministry.)

  3. Is there an area of your life where you are feeding your ego because you are more concerned with success, keeping up appearances, validation from others, and being the best?

  4. Is there an area of your life that initially appeared to be a good thing or a God thing, yet it has left you feeling empty, lost, and lonely? (For example, a ministry, career, project.)

  5. Is there an area of your work, home, or social life that has gradually consumed you and become the primary source of your identity, worth and value?

  6. Is there an area of your life where you tend to neglect your mental health and emotional well-being and you experience stress and burnout as a result?

  7. Is there an area of your life that has overtaken you, and the more you try to control it, the more out of control you feel? (For example, food, drugs, work, TV, drinking.)

  8. Is there an area of your life in which you have become driven by your performance instead of guided by your purpose, and where you have lost your peace of mind and joy as a result?

  9. Is there an area of your life that originally fulfilled you but now drains you and no longer truly satisfies the longings of your soul or your heart’s deepest desires?

  10. Is there a part of you deep down, where you feel resentful and have a strong desire to be alone and numb out?

If you've answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you tend to self-sabotage.

Ways We Self-Sabotage and Why

In my psychotherapy practice meeting with thousands of clients, I’ve discovered that although self-sabotage is a very common experience, most people do not know they are engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors.

You might not realize that the things that are holding you back or getting in your way are actually YOU.

Blaming situations and other people might seem like the answer, but this mindset keeps you stuck in a continual cycle of suffering ultimately leaving you feeling empty, lost, and lonely. The problem may seem's your boss's unrealistic expectations, societal pressures, your friend's lingering disappointment, your demanding career, your never ending to-do-list, or your partner's communication issues, for example. Each of these struggles are symptoms of a deeper-rooted issue that hides from our awareness.

Perhaps it's your inability to set boundaries and use your voice effectively or you do not know how to clearly express your wants, needs, and desires. Or, you are not asking for help because you believe you should have it figured out by now. It could also be your tendency to avoid facing your fears (i.e., fear of failure, fear of intimacy, fear of rejection, fear of happiness), not feeling your feelings, chronic comparison to to others, lies you tell yourself (i.e. I don't deserve to be happy), or harmful ways you cope with pain that are holding you captive.

Self-sabotage can also show up as regular things that become all-consuming and spiral out of control. For example: your to-do list, online dating, cooking, cleaning, exercising, social media, television, sex, work, food, alcohol, shopping, volunteering, and decorating. None of these things are harmful or wrong in and of themselves. The danger comes when they slowly consume your daily life and control you rather than your exhibiting self-control over them and using them in moderation.

You are not a bad person for occasionally using unhealthy coping mechanisms to survive and cope, especially during stressful seasons of life.

Overthinking and overanalyzing everything to the point where you cannot make simple decisions and feel overwhelmed and have lost your peace and joy are also ways we self-sabotage. You obsessively focus on trying to fix yourself and make everything you struggle with a project when the reality is: you are not a problem to solve. You are a person worth of love and compassion.

Self-sabotage can be an area of your life ( a project, a ministry, or a career) that begins as a passion ( a good thing, or even a God thing) and then slowly grow into an obsession and a crippling perfectionism, which can become the sole source of your identity, worth, and value. As a result, you easily feel envious, resentful, competitive, fearful, or push yourself too hard and endure dangerous levels of stress.

A paralyzing perfectionism where you are so attached to the idea of a perfect outcome, that you cannot begin at all, is another way we self-sabotage. For example, writing that book, starting that business, launching that podcast, getting involved in that ministry, taking that vacation or sabbatical, or doing that passion project.

By not doing that dream or project, there is still a chance it could go well.

Therefore, perfectionism says, better to not do that thing at all than to fail, be rejected, or make something "bad." Like many of you, my painful childhood experiences left me with strong perfectionistic tendencies, afraid of failing and determined to do all things flawlessly. I learned I do not need to do that dream or project in a big, impressive way. Perfectionism is like a drill sergeant that drives us internally to meet unrealistic demands and expectations, often paralyzing us.

We have ALL been there.

Here is the most important thing to understand about Self-Sabotage: You are trying to protect yourself from pain. Those hard, scary emotions and memories none of us want to feel. Your unconscious mind seeks to protect you from feeling pain or experiencing failure and rejection by keeping you in predictable, familiar patterns. Even if those patterns are toxic.

Created for Purpose

Regardless of what your patterns of self-sabotage might be, you ultimately miss out on the joy that comes from simple pleasures and enjoying the precious gifts of everyday life. The good news is that you do not have to run on fumes, live at high captivity, and be driven by the pressure of your own expectations. It's OK to live in the small moments, the grey areas, the unexpected, AND celebrate the big, impressive dreams and milestones. The difference is, your inner core, your ego, does not depend on the successes in order to survive: "I'll be nothing without this."

Rather than pleasing, performing, and perfecting your way through life, you can be a person of intention, joy, and purpose.

Self-sabotage is getting in the way of what you were put here to're irreplaceable role in the lives of others, leaving a legacy for the next generation, boldly owning your story of pain to purpose (without shamefully hiding the painful parts), and serving the people in front of you rather than performing for an audience or trying to impress people enough to finally matter to them.

Purpose is about the JOY that comes from serving God and others through your story, authentic connection, and using your gifts. Purpose fulfills a deep desire and calling as you build a life that is is fueled by peace and passion.

If you need help determining the hidden source of your self-sabotage and learn how to unapologetically accept yourself as you are, not as you should be, I invite you to work with me one-on-one.

If you're longing for a friend who has been where you are, wants to listen, and encourages you, my new book, The Cuckoo Syndrome, is for you.

**The content for this blog post has been taken from chapter 1 (The Cuckoo in Your Nest) of Andrea’s book, The Cuckoo Syndrome: The Secret to Breaking Free from Unhealthy Relationships, Toxic Thinking, and Self-Sabotaging Behavior

The photo accompanying this article was sourced from istockand is in the public domain.


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Andrea Anderson Polk is a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified, registered clinical supervisor, and certified professional coach. She has a private practice in Northern Virginia with nearly 20 years of clinical experience helping hundreds of clients on their healing journey.

She is driven by a deep calling to help ambitious women of faith experience healing and breakthrough so they can live each day with peace and purpose. 

Andrea believes healing happens through relationship. The wounds that occur in a relationship must be healed in a relationship. Andrea invites you into a life-altering relationship.

Work with Andrea one-one- by contacting her here.


Andrea has spent her career studying the human experience and has developed a fascinating analogy that compares cuckoo birds, nature’s master manipulator and imposter, to situations and relationships that leave us feeling drained, confused, lost, and empty. Her new book, The Cuckoo Syndrome, helps us fend off the cuckoos, the unhealthy relationships, toxic thinking, and self-sabotaging behaviors in our life that never truly satisfy the deep longings of our souls and the desires of our hearts. 

Andrea’s clinically proven, innovative method helps us recover the lost pieces of ourselves, discover meaning in suffering, and transform our pain into purpose by teaching us to uncover the truth of who we are and who God is so we can be healed and live free. 

Purchase the book Andrea’s clients call “a life-changing breakthrough” for yourself and the people you care about today.

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If you….

Feel internal pressure to do all things well. 

Tend to neglect your needs to please others and search for validation.

Continually attract toxic or one-sided relationships leaving you drained. 

Want to build a life that is unashamedly true to who you are and what you want.


Then…this is the time to reclaim your JOY, ENERGY, AND TIME so you can live each day with peace and purpose!


Curious to know how?

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