I have a personal story about Tony Robbins that confirmed many of my worst suspicions about the self help/positive thinking guru. It involves a close friend of mine who may face legal consequences for his run in with Mr. Robbins, and for that reason this article has to go behind our paywall. I will go into the story in some detail, but the real point of this piece is to deconstruct Robbins’ idiotic behavior at one of his events towards a woman who stood up to his dismissal of the #MeToo movement.
Recently, footage surfaced of a Tony Robbins event San Jose, California in March of this year that saw an audience member named Nanine McCool, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, confront Robbins after he claimed many women were using the #MeToo movement to avoid personal growth.
“If you use the #MeToo movement to try to get significance and certainty by attacking and destroying someone else, you haven’t grown an ounce,” declared Robbins. “All you’ve done is basically use a drug called significance to make yourself feel good.”
Robbins also claimed that women have become a liability in the workplace because of the movement. “I was just with someone the other day, very famous man, very powerful man. He’s saying how stressed he is because he interviewed three people that day—one was a woman, two were men,” he said. “The woman was better qualified, but she was very attractive, and he knew, ‘I can’t have her around, because it’s too big of a risk.’ And he hired somebody else. I’ve had a dozen men tell me this.”
McCool was not having any of it, and stood toe to toe with Robbins to call him out on his highly dubious claims and accused him of doing a “disservice” to the movement. The 11 minute clip that has gone viral is worth watching in full:
In his defense, Robbins was attempting to make a somewhat nuanced point about victimhood and using it to feel empowered, but he conveys his point is so badly it is a wonder any women in the audience stayed for the rest of the event. The notion that the #MeToo movement can be dismissed because some corporate millionaire pal of his is so afraid of hitting on attractive women that he won’t hire them says more about who Tony Robbins hangs around than anything else.
More disturbingly, Robbins also felt it appropriate to dominate McCool physically by pushing her in a weird ritual in order to make a point. Robbins is 6ft7 and an extremely loud, intimidating character when he wants to be. He uses this physicality to assert dominance over the people he interacts with under the guise of confronting them with some truth only he feels he is able to tease out of them (this clip is a good example). In reality, it is one giant exercise in feeding his own uncontrollable ego. Robbins’ dick swinging might work well with insecure men desperately trying to climb the corporate ladder, but not with those familiar with the technique who have a little more self respect (namely most women on the planet).
Robbins has constructed a mini cult around this macho schtick that his devotees believe enough to fork over thousands of dollars for. Telling a sexual assault survivor that the #MeToo movement is a way of women shirking personal responsibility while using the misogynistic whining of some douchebag he goes golfing with is, well, just gross. Like many powerful, wealthy men, Robbins believes his financial success makes him an authority on whatever topic he chooses to speak about. To be clear, Robbins is not a licensed psychologist, a counselor, and has no clinical training in anything related to mental health, sexual abuse, or trauma. While some of his techniques may be helpful to those suffering, he isn’t qualified to talk about complex mental health issues or the sexual mistreatment of women in society. Mental health professionals spend years in clinical research and put in thousands of hours of counseling that their evidence based training has qualified them to participate in. Robbins, who has a history of public speaking and selling books, is not an authority on anything other than that. Robbins has publicly apologized for his comments about the #MeToo movement but the episode still reveals much about the personal growth guru and the danger his industry presents.
My friend whom I mentioned above, had a pretty nasty run in with Robbins and his legal team a few months back that I believe illustrates the problem with people like him and the billion dollar industry he has mastered. My friend is a professional speaker and all round very decent human being, who was horrified by Robbins’ techniques after he saw his Netflix documentary ‘I Am Not Your Guru’. He took Robbins to task in a devastating critique of the documentary that followed a six day “Date with Destiny” event for bullying audience members, forcing a woman to break up with her boyfriend and doling out bullshit pseudo psychology to a victim of systemic child rape.
“Robbin’s charisma is blinding,” wrote my friend. “More than that, the deceit, manipulation, and flat out exploitation is infused with genuinely good advice, humor, and overwhelming confidence. It makes it dangerously easy for the line between reality and fantasy to blur.”
My impression of the documentary had been pretty much the same — I saw some clear benefits to Robbins’ method, but felt he was an ego maniac who had become drunk off of his own power. Having hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people fawning over him for decade after decade has clearly affected his grip on reality, and whatever good Robbins is doing has been mired by his belief that he alone has all the answers. My friend’s criticisms were fair, considered, and intended as a warning to those seeking mental health care from those not qualified to give it. However, shortly after publishing the piece he received a threatening email from Tony Robbins’ legal team, demanding he take down the article on the ridiculous basis that he was disparaging Robbins for financial gain as he was selling speaking courses on his own website. The article was contained on the blog section of his site and was not advertising any of his services (if anything, it was a warning not to hire people like him when seeking to deal with serious mental health issues). I advised my friend to ignore the email as the lawyer who wrote it likely knew it had no merit but hoped a nasty legal letter would get him to take the offending article down (the piece is still up and I highly recommend reading it in full).
It is worth noting that Tony Robbins charges several thousand dollars to attend his events and has made himself a millionaire many, many times over. He is a fan of the high life, and owns multiple houses including a luxury retreat in Fiji and a waterfront mansion in Florida. He sells people on how to become wealthy, offering books and elite coaching programs to become part of his network of fellow millionaires and billionaires. While Robbins most certainly does some good, he also does it for a hefty profit and is highly protective of his business. And make no mistake about it — Tony Robbins is mostly concerned with Tony Robbins, and anyone who questions this is subjected to physical bullying or legal threats.
During the San Jose event, Robbins unwittingly managed to illustrate why the #MeToo movement is still so important. Men like him still believe they run the world, and the #MeToo movement is finally showing them otherwise.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.