The Guru Syndrome Part 2: Tony Robbins


I used to read and listen quite a bit to motivational speaker/success coach Tony Robbins years ago. And there’s a lot of useful advice to be had from his work. If you are feeling crappy, there are certain Robbins motivational speeches that can really pump you up.

But he recently messed up in a big way—bad, bad optics, the worst optics—and I’m reminded again of why we shouldn’t regard these people as our infallible gurus.

Recently, in a speaking engagement in San Jose, Robbins had a bunch of whargarbl to say about the #MeToo movement…that the female accusers were only using it to feel “significant,” that they were guilty of “victim mentality,” etc.

A very petite woman raises her hand, says she had been the victim of sexual abuse, and offers to explain why the #MeToo movement is important.

At this point in the story, let’s put all debate over #MeToo up on the shelf and simply focus on what Robbins did next.

He goes up to her and immediately starts this aggressive “exercise” where he physically walks into her, pushing her backwards. And he spouts some whargarbl about “victim mentality,” etc.

size comparison

Ok, have you SEEN Tony Robbins? This guy is HUGE. You have the image of this HUGE guy physically pushing back a woman 1/2 his size—a woman who just said she was a victim of abuse—lecturing to her about “victim mentality.”

Has Robbins studied any contemporary psychology at all? Did it ever occur to him that suddenly demonstrating this sort of aggressive violation of personal space might trigger off MORE trauma in a person who has suffered abuse? Especially given their extreme height difference & the fact that Robbins is huge like a bodybuilder?

Bad optics. Bad optics. As much as I’ve liked his books in the past, the vast likelihood here is that he got triggered by being called out and was demonstrating some aggression disguised as an “exercise.”

typical Robbins book I’ve read

I can’t say I’d throw out any Robbins merch because I grew out of his stuff and donated it all years ago. I also can’t say I’m going to wipe from my memory the useful stuff I’ve gleaned from his work.

But he’s not my guru. He’s not infallible. And he did something really shitty (again, I’m not even going to get into the “meat” of his dismissive remarks on #MeToo here, or how he pretty much said that his rich male clients can’t be expected to control their sexual urges with pretty women).

Some might say—or Tony might say—he did that aggressive pushing thing with the abuse survivor to “toughen her up.” You may, if you’ve done a lot of research/reading/listening in self-improvement circles, have run into this mentality. There are even “sexual healers” who will try to convince victims of sexual abuse that the only way to “heal” is more sex, lots of sex, sex with people you hardly know, unprotected sex with the guru, rough sex, etc. This is a REALLY dangerous gambit. It’s basically like playing Russian roulette. If you are supposed to be in the business of healing & the empowerment of others, do you necessarily want to play Russian roulette with your clients?

And if Robbins did that whole “bodily intimidation” thing with a female client who was an abuse survivor…I still think it’s like playing Russian roulette. She needs to feel that males are safe…he is deliberately making her feel unsafe in order to “scare her” out of her “victim mentality.” Russian roulette, my friends. It…could work. Or she could end up re-traumatized and committing suicide. Who knows???

had this one too.

The sad fact is, I think Tony Robbins was/is a brilliant self-improvement coach…for a certain type of clientele. Honestly, I did not fit that “profile” of his typical clientele, but I was happy to get some life-tools anyway from him. A person like me learning self-improvement techniques from Tony Robbins is, I realize now, quite subversive.

Also: due to the current outrage regarding what Robbins did in San Jose, I can almost bet you money right now a bunch of allegations regarding him are going to come out real soon. And he’s not going to be able to weather it because…he’s also past his “prime.” His “prime time” was mid 1980s-1990s. There are a lot of other self-improvement peeps you can turn to now, who are better tuned in to the zeitgeist and what people need right now; and I should at some point post about some of them.

Robbins —for all the good “motivationing” he had to give—was from the Gordon Gekko “Greed Is Good” Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross “always be closing” era. And it’s not tuned in to the current situation anyway.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: use critical thinking with your gurus. And accept that your guru of today may not be your guru of tomorrow.

Possibly relevant: