top of page

Andrea Anderson Polk’s Blog

Clinically Practiced, Biblically Informed

  • Writer's pictureAndrea Anderson Polk

The Cuckoo Syndrome, Part 3: The Self-Inflicted Cuckoo

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

image of The Cuckoo Syndrome, Part 3: The Self-Inflicted Cuckoo

Exposing Toxic Thinking Patterns and Self-Sabotaging Behavior

In the previous post, we discussed The Relationship Cuckoo which means you are involved in an unhealthy relationship where you neglect your needs, wants, and desires in order to take care of and please someone else receiving little or no reciprocation.

Essentially, you are the one doing all the work. Here we will explore what it means to host The Self-Inflicted Cuckoo. (To find out if you are hosting the Self-Inflicted-Cuckoo, take the Cuckoo Syndrome Quiz © which will provide detailed questions designed to help you understand how you can unknowingly become your own worst enemy).

The cuckoo in your life does not have to be an unhealthy relationship with another person; it can be the unhealthy relationship you have within yourself. A self-inflicted cuckoo shows 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, The Self-inflicted Cuckoo is your own behaviors and thinking patterns that are keeping you stuck.

You might not realize that the things that are holding you back or getting in your way are actually because of your own thinking, actions, and behaviors. We have all been here. Understanding this cuckoo dynamic can help prevent you from shaming yourself when you repeat these destructive behaviors over and over again.

Self-Inflicted Cuckoo = Toxic Thinking Patterns + Self-Sabotaging Behaviors

In my work 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.

Self-inflicted cuckoos appear good on the outside, but they create harm because you gradually develop an obsessive preoccupation that takes over your life. Self-inflicted cuckoos are imposters disguised as things that will fulfill you, yet ultimately they leave you feeling empty, lost, and lonely.

Unlike relationship cuckoos, with self-inflicted cuckoos, you are not feeding the insatiable appetite of an unhealthy person; you are feeding the insatiable appetite of your ego by searching for relief and significance in unhealthy ways.

The Devious Disguises of Self-Inflicted Cuckoos

Self-inflicted cuckoos come in many forms. They can be regular things that become all-consuming and spiral out of control, or they can be passions that become obsessions or worse—addictions.

Examples of these regular things are 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, wrong, or bad 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.

Addictive behaviors—such as alcoholism, disordered eating, sex and love addiction, drug addiction, and workaholism—are also self-inflicted cuckoos. Like the host parent of the cuckoo chick who becomes a slave to its ever-demanding, never-satisfied demands.

So it is with self-inflicted cuckoos because you are a slave to your own internal drives that grow bigger and bigger.

Self-inflicted cuckoos can also be an area of your life that begins as a passion 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, prideful, or push yourself too hard and endure dangerous levels of stress. Examples include being passionate about a project, a ministry, or a career.

Your Own Worst Enemy

The cuckoo arises when your life becomes out of balance and your relationships, mental health, and physical health are affected.

Your marriage suffers, you do not spend as much time with your children, you experience chronic fatigue or other unexplained medical symptoms, you are not sleeping well, you struggle with bouts of depression, and you are anxious most of the time.

These are all signs you could have a self-inflicted cuckoo in your nest even though you are passionate about what you are doing. You become driven by our performance instead of driven by our purpose.

Toxic thinking patterns such as overthinking, overanalyzing, and obsessing to the point where we cannot make simple decisions and feel overwhelmed and have lost our peace and joy are also self-inflicted cuckoos. The toxic patterns create an illness of introspection where we live in our mind rather than in our behaviors.

The paralysis-by-analysis mentality keeps us stuck and trapped in cuckoo land, believing the lies we tell ourselves. Toxic-thinking cuckoos suck the joy out of our work, relationships, and life.

Regardless of what your self-inflicted cuckoo might be, you do not realize it is in your nest, yet eventually, you become your own worst enemy.

Here is the most important thing to understand about The Self-inflicted Cuckoo: you deceive yourself into believing these behaviors will protect you. Your unconscious mind seeks to protect you from feeling pain or experiencing failure and rejection by keeping you in predictable, familiar patterns.

Although self-inflicted cuckoos help you feel better in the short term, they are imposters who leave you feeling worse because those patterns are harmful, not helpful. You become consumed with feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and shame as you strive to perform, please, and perfect your life away.

Hence the nature of the cuckoo. They are sneaky. They resemble what you want. They look as if they belong in your nest, your life. But they are imposters. Remember, the process is subtle at first, and you are deceived into thinking things are okay, especially because the self-inflicted cuckoos appear to be good things or even God things on the outside.

Not until later do you realize you are held captive by the things, and your true purpose never manifests at all or does not reach its fullness. Essentially your own eggs never hatch and come to life, and you have a nest full of imposter eggs that mimic what you want but are not truly what satisfies the longings of your heart’s deepest desires. Something is missing in your life, and you can’t quite put your finger on it. Until now.

The good news is that it’s never too late to begin the process of letting go of old habits and patterns that are restricting you. It is time to break the cycle of being your own worst enemy and begin the process of getting in touch with your innermost heart’s desires and dreams that have yet to come to fruition because your self-inflicted cuckoo is thwarting the way.

Order Andrea's book, The Cuckoo Syndrome, which provides you with the necessary information to discover what makes you susceptible and vulnerable to being the target of cuckoos.

You will learn how to navigate self-sabotaging behaviors and complicated relationships by learning practical tools integrating science, psychology, and scripture. You will begin the journey of reclaiming your God-given purpose and take back your eggs that have never been allowed to “hatch.”

If you need help navigating through a difficult, painful relationship and need help setting boundaries, then I invite you to apply to work with Andrea one-on-one now.

676 views0 comments


Sign up here to receive blog posts in your email inbox each week

Thanks for submitting!


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.

Hard-Cover-and-Back-Book-Mockup (3).png



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?

bottom of page