Tony Robbins and the Half-Baked Hollowness of Pop Psychology

George J. Ziogas

He's right, he is not your guru
Randy Stewart/Wikimedia Commons

Self-help is big business and one of the titans of the industry is Tony Robbins. The man has been in the business for the better part of four decades. His guru journey started when he was just 17. Yet, he says “I am not your guru” to the world, the same title of the Netflix documentary about him. A bold claim from a man who has spent over 40 years telling people that he effectively is their guru… isn’t it?

The Ugly Side Of Self-Help

This documentary opens with a haunting scene. A young man explains to a large crowd that he is suicidal and then tries to explain why. Robbins stands before him questioning why he hates himself, then makes a mocking comment about his footwear. Cool. The man laughs awkwardly, trembling as he grips the microphone tighter in his hand.

Robbins tells him he’s too hard on himself. He makes meaningful eye contact, sprinkles in excessive use of the f word, and encourages the man to love himself. Cue Snow Patrol. Insert masturbation joke. Welcome a tight embrace through free-falling tears. Robbins is his saving grace.

The music has reached a crescendo, the crowd is on their feet applauding wildly. They fist-bump and Robbins walks away as other members of the crowd reach out to embrace the young man. He’s hoisted into the air as the crowd passes him from group of people to group of people.

What am I watching?

Date With Destiny”, one of Tony Robbin’s biggest seminars. This one runs for 12 hours a day over six days and each attendee at the time paid almost $5,000 (that fee is now $7,995) for the privilege of attending. Take a look around the room, there are massive screens on the walls, huge lighting rigs, loud music.

It’s an experience. The thrill of the disco lights merging with emotional music. An entire crew takes the stage before Robbins does with the express purpose of hyping up a crowd of thousands. The crowd is worked into a frenzy until they achieve a type of spiritual experience. They’re sweating as they bounce to an upbeat playlist.

Robbins travels widely each year, visiting at least 12 countries, speaking to hundreds of thousands of people. “Date With Destiny” occurs annually. The one we watch unfold in the documentary is his 74th in 25 years. Bearing in mind, this documentary was filmed back in 2014.

We meet a young woman from California. She tells us about her struggles with her diet. Robbins goes into a spiel about self-respect and then he asks about her craving love from a parent. When she says she seeks love most from her father he nods smugly and says clearly. He looks around the room at all of the nodding heads, a smirk on his face as he launches into a spiel about… himself. This young woman is 19 and as she wipes tears from her face the crowd around her draws her into a hug.

At this point, it’s difficult to know what’s really going on.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he then encourages another woman to pick up her phone and call her boyfriend to break up with him right then and there in front of this crowd of thousands. This is after he calls her father a mother-f*cker for giving her unconditional love and making her believe she has a right to have her needs met. WHAT? He then dismisses her boyfriend as being too feminine because he is an open and honest communicator. That’s why, he says, she should break up with him.

While he can’t make her do it, she’s so clearly desperate for his approval that we see her reach into her purse to grab her phone. While the phone rings, Robbins struts around the auditorium with a sneering smirk on his face. She explains to her boyfriend that they’re just not right for each other.

She tells him she loves him and that she’s sorry and the boyfriend hangs up. The volume of music increases. The crowd is drawn to their feet in rapturous applause. The woman? Devastated, she collapses into her seat in tears and her friend embraces her in a hug.

Who is this helping?

Tony Robbins’ bank account.

It certainly isn’t helping this woman, the man at the start of the documentary, or the young woman from before. Speaking of Tony Robbins’ relationship to womenBuzzFeed News reported in 2019 that several women had come forward with allegations of abuse.

BuzzFeed News released a series of articles about his pattern of behavior. They highlighted his use of racial slurs, forcing participants to drink an unidentified shot with the audience led to believe it contained laxatives, and of course the allegations of rape and domestic abuse from both former employees and followers. While he denies these allegations, BuzzFeed stands by their reporting.

The Even Uglier Side Of Self-Help

You don’t need Tony Robbins to improve yourself. You don’t need any guru. You can be your own guru because only you can know what your values, hopes, and dreams are. Ultimately, the more power you give to someone else the more power you take away from yourself. That’s what followers of Tony Robbins do. They give him the power and they take away their ability to exercise their free will in their search for personal development.

It’s called self-help, not Robbins-help.

By choosing to follow a guru who has set himself up as a guru and then claims to not be a guru… who does that benefit? It will never benefit you because your journey of self-development is your journey and no one else gets to call the shots.

I would encourage you to watch the documentary to see how he operates for yourself. Especially if you aren’t overly familiar with his work. It clearly highlights one thing and one thing only — Tony Robbins isn’t helping anyone. All he’s doing is talking and the majority of it is nonsense you can find on the internet for free.

You won’t find empowerment from a guru, you will find it within yourself. It’s disrespectful and gross to encourage someone to break up with her boyfriend so publicly. It’s wholly inappropriate to invite everyone who feels suicidal to stand. It’s bizarre that a man with so much power and supposed wisdom would give uninvited physical affection to a survivor of sexual abuse.

It’s wildly inappropriate that he would drag a man around by his hair to humiliate him. It’s unacceptable and he would know that if he had any idea of what he was talking about. Nothing that unfolds on stage is helpful or productive. It’s a circus. A sideshow. A man who pokes fun, tears down and insults participants before acting as though he’s putting them back together again.

The reality of Tony Robbins’ seminars is that they are money-making entertainment shows. He has done incredibly well for himself by taking his show on the road. He can call himself a practical psychologist all he likes, and he does, but that doesn’t make it true. He simply doesn’t possess the formal training required to claim any such title.

Robbins’ seminars are not a solution. They are not a replacement for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This is nothing more than a stage show and that’s not what you need.

You can do without.

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