By now most of us have seen the video of motivational speaker and author Tony Robbins and his negative comments regarding the #MeToo movement, as well as his aggressive words and behavior toward Nanine McCool, a sexual assault survivor and social advocate.
To begin, this blog is not about bashing Tony Robbins, shaming his fans and followers, or creating more unrest and rage in our troubled world.
And, it is not about victim blaming or taking sides. It is about exploring power dynamics and privilege as we continue to change the narrative through conversations, marches, and advocacy.
Additionally, this blog is about holding people in high positions accountable, and providing constructive feedback, education and information to assist them as they continue to grow, learn and become part of the solution. And part of that growth needs to happen with insight, understanding, ownership and the willingness to be the change one hopes to see.
To support the focus on healing, accountability, and change, I have asked several therapists from around the world, a diverse group of healing professionals, to share their thoughts with Tony Robbins. I include their statements at the end of this blog.
For those who may not be aware of what has happened, to summarize, in March 2018, Nanine McCool was attending Robbins, "Unleash the Power Within" event in San Jose, CA. During one of the presentations, after Robbins shared the comments below regarding sexual abuse survivors and #MeToo, Nanine stood up in front of thousands of his followers, and respectfully confronted Robbins on his criticisms of the survivors in the #MeToo movement. Survivors who are peacefully advocating for healing, safety and change in the world.
During Nanine's attempts to share her point of view, Robbins repeatedly and loudly interrupts, talks over, and minimizes what she is trying to get across. Here is part of their exchange:
“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,” Robbins told the crowd. “All you’ve done is basically use a drug called significance to make yourself feel good.”
Nanine went on to respond,
“You are a leader and an influential man, and you are doing a disservice, in my opinion, to the #MeToo movement. Certainly there may be people who are using it for their own personal devices, but there are also a significant number of people who are using it not to relive whatever may have happened to them, but to make it safe for the young women. So that they don’t have to feel unsafe.”
At one point during their exchange, Robbins launches in to this troubling antidote in an apparent attempt to underscore his points. For many of us, this story felt biased, tone deaf and alarming:
“I was 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. 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.”
Suddenly, Robbins requests that Nanine come out from her seat and stand in front of him. Then, in the presence of an auditorium packed with his fans, Robbins who is 6'7 and towers over Nanine, tells her to put her fists out as if he is going to give her a fist bump. Instead, he begins to quickly and forcefully push her backwards up the aisle apparently attempting to demonstrate a resistance exercise of some sort in what has now been called, "intimidating, inappropriate, and aggressive".
Nanine has shared that while she was not afraid, she did feel as if she might have easily been pushed to the ground at any moment,
"[I was] thinking he's going to transform it into some kind of awareness. I don't know, it's Tony Robbins, there's going to be some lesson here that's gonna be useful to me. I initially started pushing back but he immediately pushed back harder. There was no way. He was going to knock me on my ass if I didn't step backward so I quit pushing against him, I just started walking backward. As long as he was pushing me, I was moving."
As a therapist who has worked with trauma survivors for over a decade, and as a sexual abuse and domestic violence survivor who has overcome and healed my own traumatic abuse, I am very glad to know that this was not frightening to Nanine.
However, for others who witnessed this at the event or virtually, what Robbins said and did activated PTSD responses across the globe in a great many people, including a few of my own clinical clients. I do not believe that was his intention, however, this has happened. Like it or not.
At one point, you can hear a person in the audience call out, "Apologize Tony!" Robbins response? "I am not going to be inauthentic and say I am sorry about something I am not sorry about!"
That was his truth. His comments and attitudes were clear.
Soon after this, a young woman who goes by the name of Butterscotch uploaded a video of Robbins. When Robbins and his team became aware of the video, rather than choosing to take ownership for his words and behaviors and making a sincere amends right away, instead his team bullied Butterscotch and demanded that she take down the video.
However, when they realized that NowThis would be releasing the story two weeks later, they then scrambled to do damage control behind the scenes contacting Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement with an explanation for Robbins words and actions. Tarana responded publicly to this private manipulation tactic via her Twitter platform. Her words highlighted emotions that many of us we were feeling.
Two days later the video went viral.
Suffice to say the response has not been favorable for Robbins. Thousands of sexual assault survivors, men and women, have taken to social media to express their concern and criticisms regarding Tony Robbins words and behaviors toward this movement and toward Nanine.
It was only after the video went viral last Saturday (two weeks after the event), and as a response to the backlash he was receiving, Robbins finally attempted an apology of sorts, issuing the following social media statement 24 hours after the video went viral:
While some of his fans have showered praise on their self help guru for this statement, many others have questioned the timing of the apology, and have let Robbins know that this feels like a publicity attempt to do damage control vs. a sincere expression of insight and remorse.
Though his words and actions were troubling, I am optimistic that this is a first step in the right direction. And my hope is that after examining what is clearly his truth, he will now take time to listen and learn.
Additionally, it would behoove Robbins to better understand the basic constructs of an apology. And that people need time to sort through their own responses, reactions and emotions, before feeling safe and open to hearing what he has to say.
In February of this year I wrote an article discussing the deification of clinical leaders. In the article I share my formula for an apology, or what I call, "The Anatomy of an Apology"©. Here is an excerpt from that article:
"These are the elements that are essential, at least in my life and in my clinical work, that support a sincere apology:
1. Expressed Empathy: This means that you are willing to consider that person's experience, the pain you have caused, and are willing to do the work to deeply understand their pain, and how you have contributed to their hurt.
2. Full Ownership: This means that you accept full ownership for the hurts that you have inflicted through your intentional or unintentional words or behaviors on the other (s) who have been wounded. You state clearly, from a place of deep understanding what you did and you own it without excuses, minimizations, gas lighting, blame shifting, or highlighting your own good deeds in the process.
3. Compassionate Insight: This means that you take the time required to listen, learn, reflect and move more deeply into insight about what informed and motivated your damaging words and behaviors to the other (s). You are willing to compassionately look at what is unhealed within yourself so that you can understand and change your behavior that hurts others.
4. An Authentic Apology: This means that once you have gained empathy and insight, you are willing to take full ownership, and if you have not properly apologized before, or your apology was insincere or manipulative, then you circle back with a full and healthy apology made directly (and sometimes publicly) to that person/people/organization you have wounded.
5. Changed Behavior Modeled Consistently Over Time: This means that you step back, work with a therapist, healing professional, or trusted wise mentor (who is not on your payroll and who is willing to hold you accountable and challenge you). This person will help you continue to do the important work of matching your future actions to your current words of apology. In other words, actions speak louder than words. You need to walk your talk.
(Please note: The "Anatomy of an Apology" © is the copyrighted information of Mari A. Lee and will be used in the book, "The Gift in the Wound: Stories of Hope and Resiliency". You may not copy or distribute this information without written permission).
Over the course of my clinical career, I have counseled hundreds of men, women and couples. As part of their healing work, I often teach my Anatomy of an Apology© formula, especially with those individuals who have assaulted, harassed, violated, betrayed or have been verbally, emotionally, sexually or physically violent to others.
There is a saying in the clinical community, "Hurting people hurt people"; it requires more than 24 hours to make changes. And it takes more than a formula to do deep healing work. It takes courage and willingness.
Moving in to ownership, empathy, insight and gentle self acceptance in order to change behavior is not easy for human beings, myself included. It takes time for individuals to heal the trauma that informs these damaging beliefs that then fuel hurtful and sometimes ignorant words and behaviors. It takes time for people to change their long held core beliefs around entitlement, misogyny, privilege, and other such schemas.
These changes do not happen overnight.
Consistency and predictability are two of the most important cornerstones of safe human relationships. Unpredictable and inconsistent people are not usually those with whom we feel we can safely attach. We may try to connect and attach to unpredictable people because of our own unresolved pain, but ultimately we need people who are consistent and predictable in order to create healthy relationships. Thus, overnight transformations rarely, if ever, last.
It takes hard work over time for core schemas, beliefs and behaviors to change.
This is why the statement from Tony Robbins within 24 hours of the video going viral does not feel sincere to a great many people. And it direclty contradicts what he was stating at his event in San Jose.
And for many of us in the clinical community, and especially survivors, his words feel rushed, lack insight and appear inauthentic. Yes, it is a step in the right direction, and I am optimistic that he can grow from this. However, this public statement is a very small first step, especially because parts of his letter are concerning.
For example, Robbins begins by stating that his comments at his event, "fail to reflect" - this is a subtle way of minimizing his strong words and attitudes regarding #MeToo and his belief that some survivors use the movement and their "victimhood" to gain "significance."
The survivors I know do not wish to be labeled as, be seen as, or to stand in a "victim" state. Sadly, Robbins was unwilling to apologize. Instead, he was dogmatic in his opinions when challenged by Nanine.
Yet once the video went viral on social media, less than a day later, it seems Robbins feels the exact opposite of what he was expounding at his conference. This sudden change of heart lacks depth and healing.
Robbins also states in his letter that his words were "suggestions." However, what he stated in San Jose was much more than a "suggestion." He was adamant and clear. There was no mistaking what he was saying. There was nothing ambiguous about his comments.
He then quickly pulls the attention back to himself and reminds the reader of all of the good work he has done over "40 years" and mentions his own childhood abuse. While I/we can extend appreciation for his work, and empathy for his struggles, struggles that are far too familiar for so many, Robbins including this statement in his apology letter feels somewhat manipulative.
There is a time and place to share about one's accomplishments and what one has overcome, and an apology letter is usually not the time to do this.
It is also confusing to read that he has "nothing but respect" for the movement when he does not seem to understand even the most basic tenets of what #MeToo stands for. From his remarks to Nanine and his audience, he has clearly misinterpreted the spirit and the intention of the movement.
While one can understand his attempt to duck and cover, and while I personally appreciate his willingness to become a student and learn, this letter does not include many of the elements of an apology that I outline above. It feels, in short, like a quick bandaid on a gaping wound of his own creation.
We who have survived sexual abuse, we who have worked hard to heal, we who have gone on to thrive, we who have used our stories to help others, and who have advocated for decades to change the narrative on abuse and victimization, were disappointed, appalled and offended by Robbins words and actions. A great many others had PTSD reactions.
Not because we are overly sensitive snowflakes as some of his followers have labeled us, or man haters, or even Tony Robbins haters (I believe he does have an intention for good), but because our response to his antics and emphatic opinions are organic and appropriate given the highly inappropriate comments and behaviors, from, as Nanine bravely stated, "a powerful and influential man." A man of means and privilege who has the ear of millions. And clearly the ear of men in high places who are responsible for hiring staff and changing laws.
By Robbins not examining his own biases (and we all have them), his own entitlement, and his own attitudes, he is not part of the solution as his letter states, he is, and has been, part of the problem when it comes to attitudes toward women and survivors.
By Robbins not fully owning this and understanding how he has influenced a generation of men (and women) who go on to model his attitudes and biases is troubling at best and dangerous at worse.
Unfortunately, it appears from what he shares, that he supports and encourages these men in not hiring attractive women, even though they may be the more qualified candidate for the job. Why? Because it would be too tempting for the men on staff. Or that the woman might make up a story and sue. Perhaps Tony and his boys club live in a different world than the rest of us, but that's called discrimination where I come from.
Rather than consider and learn about the long history of sexual harassment and inequality toward women in the workplace, Robbins has flipped this around, along with "dozens" of his corporate buddies, and now blames the #MeToo movement for the attitudes and apparent paranoia of these men vs. understanding that their attitudes are why we are here to begin with.
And that is Gas Lighting at its' finest.
And, it matters not that his staff is "70% female" if the person at the top (Tony Robbins) believes the rhetoric he shared at his event. If he cannot see the irony in the justification ("most of my staff is female"), then that is incredibly concerning.
Like many women before me, I also experienced sexual harassment in a corporate organization. Sadly, nearly every professional woman I know has experienced this as well.
Yet, in my 55 years of living, not one woman, not one, that I have ever known has made up a story about the harassment they've endured. Not one woman I've ever come in contact with has sued the company or the male harasser. In fact, very few even report the abuse. I did, but I was threatened with the loss of my job like many before and after me. Yes, I understand that there are women who make up stories, but I think we can all agree, at least those of us who are reasonable and rational, that this is rare, and that those women are very far and very few between.
How does one even begin to respond to the kind of mindset Tony was demonstrating with his story? Since when is it the responsibility of a woman to make sure that male staff members act appropriately toward her? Oh yes...since forever. These covert and overt attitudes and behaviors are exactly why we need #MeToo and #TimesUp more than ever.
Simply put: What Robbins said was a lot more than a misunderstanding or a minor misstep at his event. This was 11 minutes of his mask slipping and revealing decades of fossilized beliefs and biases that he has passed along to the millions of men (and women) around the world who look to him as a role model and a mentor that defines masculine attitudes.
Everyone has misstepped in their professional journey. No one is exempt from placing their foot firmly in their mouth at one time or another. It is not my place, or any person's place to judge another human beings fallible journey.
That said, given the gravity of this character exposure, Robbins would be well served to step back from the lime light now and become the student for awhile. He would be wise to sit at the feet of the founder of the #MeToo movement Tarana Burke and educate himself. He would be smart to quiet his voice, and understand that listening is the most active and important part of any conversation.
It is time for him to pause now in his journey, and learn from the women and men of the #MeToo movement, to hear our stories, and to get to know what motivates our advocacy, which is far more than just anger and outrage.
Robbins shouted at his event that anger won't change attitudes. He strongly implied that those of us who are marching and speaking in advocacy to end sexual assault in #MeToo and #TimesUp are using anger as our only motivator. His implication is that we are a bunch of angry women trying to push an agenda in order to threaten, get back at, and control men, so that we can get high from a drug called "significance."
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Rather than school survivors on how our "anger" is turning men off and creating resistance toward the #MeToo movement, it would be wise for Robbins to begin to examine his own reactions toward "angry women" coming together for change. What is stirred up and triggered in him when he witnesses women marching together using our voices for change? What are the unresolved pain points that inform his strong reactions toward "angry women" expressing their outrage?
And on the topic of anger, appropriate and justifiable anger expressed through peaceful demonstration is nothing to apologize for. Again, anger is not the issue. Attempting to shame women for expressing our anger and our unwillingness to tolerate abuse is the issue. His attempts at shaming us with our own voices, his attempts at silencing our advocacy due to his own discomfort won't work this time. And his attempts at "educating" women and survivors on our anger and how to express it is incredibly assumptive, arrogant, short sighted and lacks understanding.
As a Psychotherapist and as a survivor, my hope is that he makes a choice to work with a therapist who can help him unpack these challenges that he wrestles with; how much more would he evolve as an example and mentor for others? Instead of back peddling and excuse making, how about Robbins follow his own advise and "own" his attitudes and beliefs as he steps in to this season of change.
Ownership is the first step in order to heal these attitudes that he has now exposed, and sadly, that he has been passing on to the men he teaches. Men who do in fact regard him as their guru. And have for decades.
These are the same type of people who are now stating that their hero is only apologizing in order to be politically correct. That Robbins only released his apology to shut up the hysterical screeching mouths of the annoying "angry women" of the #MeToo movement.
And that is a very dangerous attitude to carry forward in to the world. A world that those of us in #MeToo movement are attempting to change so that young women do not have to face what we did. And so that every human being can ambulate safely through public, personal and professionals spaces without fear of rape, sexual abuse or harrassment.
If Robbins was sincere in his statement of wanting to change, then he needs to publicly address the attitudes of his fans and followers who are spewing hatefullness in his name. Now is the time for him to walk his talk.
My hope is that Tony will take this feedback, and the comments from thousands of people from around the world, a virtual “push back” if you will - similar to what he did to Nanine, and use this information, as well as the thoughts from the therapists below, to heal and evolve.
Finally, according to Tony's letter, he is now ready to become the student. I am willing to cautiously trust that he his sincere.
In order to support his desire to evolve, I reached out to some of the brightest and best therapists I know, clinicians and survivors, men and women, straight and gay, of various ethnicities and beliefs from all over the globe. In doing so, I asked these therapists and healers what they would like to share with Tony Robbins.
Here are their responses below, including my own open letter to Tony.
In closing, thank you for taking the time to hear my thoughts and reflections, and for taking a few more minutes to read the following open letters from therapists and healers around the world.
If you would like to add a comment in the section at the end, you are welcome to do so as long as it is respectful and adds healing to the conversation.
Mari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S
Open Letters from Therapists & Healers to Tony Robbins...
You made a mistake, we all do.
That you responded to the criticism and issued a statement apology was a significant action. Unfortunately, that apology you released largely missed the mark. Quite frankly, it reads like a hastily written first draft boiler plate apology that we’ve all seen too many times from almost every other celebrity who’s messed up.
You’re a thoughtful, passionate man and I know you have it within yourself to do better. Apologies are most effective when they demonstrate, above all else, that you "get it;” and also when they empathically acknowledge the hurt party’s pain and experience. I hope that you revisit your original apology statement and consider that, perhaps, you just didn’t get it.
I also hope that you consider that as an educated straight white male you benefit from a vast system of privilege that also creates a unique set of blind spots for someone in your position. Blind spots that are not easy to identify, but are accessible by listening to those that are trying to be heard.
Listen to their stories.
Listen to their pain.
Listen to their experience.
And try to put yourself in their place and imagine that what they are telling you is actually valid and true. What you may come to see is that the #MeToo movement is more about awareness and change and less about victimhood and anger (although victimization and anger are understandably part of the fuel driving the movement).
That’s how you truly become part of the solution.
Aaron Alan, MA, LMFT, CSAT-S
Executive Director, Foundry Clinical Group
Los Angeles, California, USA
I watched your performance with Ms. McCool and I felt compelled to answer you as a therapist and as a woman who strongly identifies as a #metoo survivor.
Your suggestion that any of us who associate with the #metoo movement makes us become addicted to victimhood is blaming and shaming for the men and women who’ve been sexually abused.
For people who’ve experienced sexual abuse when they speak their truths about their experiences can be empowering and makes them feel less alone.
With you comment, “What did Jesus say?” you not only imply but go on to say out loud that we should not throw stones (aka: protest) unless we are blameless, this goes against every current and past civil rights and civil disobedience movement.
No one is blameless, as you pointed out, no one is perfect. We’ve all likely done something that might have hurt others. However, does that mean we have to sit back and allow others to harm us without protest? Where would we be as a country if we didn’t protest?
You also suggested that the #metoo movement is being used to attack others in order to feel good about ourselves. I suggest it’s a way to say no more; to say, I refuse to stay quiet; to say, I’m done with staying small.
My comments so far have only touched on your statements, but I want you to understand that your behaviors are also a problem. When you talk over Ms. McCool, when you use your body aggressively with a woman “demonstrating” how protest keeps you pushing back, when you say, “remember the character on Saturday Night Live who says ‘nevermind’ to try to convey that she’s not moving on and she’s misunderstood you, when clearly she fully understood, all those things that you did left me feeling as if you were a bully, a person who wanted his voice heard above all else.
You perpetuate the story in our society that people who’ve experienced sexual abuse need to get over being a victim so that the rest of society can feel more comfortable. I was left feeling that you’re a part of the problem and people like you are why we need the #metoo movement, so other voices and stories can be heard, so victims/survivors have a voice and no longer feel alone.
I hope you will pause in your journey now and reflect, heal what needs to heal in you, and grow, learn and advocate from a place of humility.
Elizabeth Cush, LCPC,
Host of Woman Worriers Podcast
Annapolis, MD, USA
This is what I would like to say about what I have witnessed. People mess up. However, when you hold a lot of influence, and you have a large audience that continues to grow, your responsibility of what you say and how you say it grows as well.
Your comments were even more disturbing because we are currently in a culture that continues to criticize people for advocating for themselves. Self-advocacy is something that should be celebrated.
With this advocacy, it does mean that we all have to change in some way, because we all have to do our part in some way. And that can be hard to do.
Based on this first "apology" that I have seen from you, it seems you have yet to understand this.
Michael Salas, MA, LPC-S, CSAT-S, CST, SEP
Dallas, Texas, USA
Male privilege, control and domination has been a concern for me since Junior High when they changed the Mass from Latin to English and I could hear what they were actually saying politically. (Well, the whole Eve-blaming thing really bothered me before that, too.) I had been a really religious kid before that. Then, in high school, when my brain developed enough to actually start thinking critically, I saw no other option than to become politically active.
I think there are a lot of things we can do to change the narrative on equal rights. It will take action on multiple levels to change what Schaef called the "White Male System" in "Women's Reality" in 1981, and which Lakoff called the "Strict Father Model" in a variety of books, including "Don't Think of an Elephant," 2004 & updates.
For me, the crux of this change is treating children with respect and providing them with good educations. The Journal of Psychohistory folks posit that if we stop child abuse, we stop wars from happening. There are some small countries that have made hitting your child, or treating them badly illegal. As a result, the teen drug, crime and self-harm rates plummeted for kids in those countries.
Parents had to be educated about alternative methods of child-rearing, and there were local resources to get help, and...it worked! When you grow up in an abusive family, you not only crave a positive parent-figure, you crave power - and we're seeing that "shadow" come out in all kinds of ugly ways in some of our public figures, and in the rise of hate groups, for example.
We also need a solid education for people so that we can all think critically and make good judgments. And, equally important, emotional education so that we can distinguish between our needs and feelings and take the right actions to change things in a positive manner.
We need to reduce wealth inequality so people have a chance at a good life. We need to get $$$ out of politics so the corporations don't run our government. We need to recognize that we are all in this together, and to treat each other with respect. We need to speak up when we see injustice, and protect those who need protecting.
And, we need to educate people about the wrongs being done to others, why it happens, and what the options are. We need to demand our politicians and leaders act in ways to help all of the people in our country, or we need to vote them out and replace them with people who are not more concerned with their power and prestige than they are with our Constitution and human well-being. We need to treat each other with respect and kindness.
Oh, heavens, I could go on and on, but I I'll leave it at that for now, and say again: We need to treat each other with respect and kindness...
Renee Beck, LMFT
Dreamwork & Transpersonal Therapy
Oakland, California, USA
In your statement regarding the #metoo movement you expressed a desire to be part of the solution. It seems that one of the things you don’t understand is that before you can be part of the solution, you need to take some time to understand how you are part of the problem.
Stating that your words were taken out of context or misunderstood is not understanding how you have contributed to the toxic environment many people face when it comes to power dynamics and abuse.
Your actions indicate that you misunderstand the message of the #metoo movement as you talked over, turned against and bullied a woman who was speaking up and trying to enlighten you. That is the message that seems to have been lost on you as many have spoken up after the video was posted online.
Your actions are concerning Tony.
Your treatment of this individual as well as how you talked about the “powerful male” who didn’t hire the more qualified, but attractive female are alarming.
Tony, you cannot and should not talk your way out of this.
Understanding how you are part of the problem will take time, it will require you to take a step back from your role as expert and authority. You will have to slow down and challenge talking points that you’ve used and misused for far too long.
You will need to listen more than you speak and soften parts of yourself that are tough. Not doing this makes you dangerous to the thousands of men and women you influence and who follow you.
Jackie Pack LCSW, CSAT-S,CMAT
Healing Paths, Inc.
Bountiful, Utah, USA
I have spent the last two days reading the articles about your statements and actions in San Jose looking for something that makes sense to me. I wanted to find at least one thing that I could hold on to that would explain what your positions were so that I could reconcile.
Didn't happen, bro.
We men over 50, especially white men over 50, have to accept that the deck was stacked in our favor and the time has come to make it right. I know that I am guilty of privilege and of making poor choices and I have no excuses, just amends.
There is no logic or defense of the current system that holds women and minorities in a lesser light and blocks access and we have to be ones that speak out. And that starts with highly visible public figures like you.
Here is a chance for you to reflect back and realize your mistake and own it. You will not be seen as weak but rather as a man who is guided by spiritual principles that include accountability, integrity and humility. I bet that will sell a lot of books, so don't be disingenuous, be courageous.
Kevin Petersen, LMFT
Petersen Family Counseling
Denver, Colorado, USA
I saw you recently at a Psychotherapy conference. I understand that you can be controversial, however, in observing the situation that transpired in San Jose, I think you missed a teachable moment.
You could have been a hero for those women in the room. Instead, you sewed the seeds of doubt and once again created a power struggle, feeding the male/female divisiveness that we don't need right now in this country.
I know you would be shocked to see yourself as an abuser, you value your significance in the lives of women as an agent of change. So now is your time! Use your platform to make that change. Use your platform to do the right thing. There is a difference between being a victim and being vulnerable...and it's hard to be vulnerable when you have so much (reputation) to lose. But my guess is we will only love you more if you can really show your soft side and dig into this controversy.
Not just the manipulative (oh-I-have-had-such-a-poor childhood) side you show to woo your audience, but the real soft and chewy center. I suspect it's there. I believe under the narcissism you really care.
The #MeToo movement is not about "significance," Tony, it's about betrayal, healing, and creating safety so others can live in a changed world.
Tammy Nelson, PhD
Psychotherapist and Author
As you continue your evolution of self growth, of understanding others, healing your biases, and coming in to personal insight and deeper compassion, this is what I would like to share from my heart to your own, without judgement, only encouragement:
Anger is a natural human emotion.
Anger tells us when our boundaries are being crossed.
The feeling of anger is not the issue. It is how anger is expressed that is the problem - assertively, appropriately and in advocacy, vs. aggressively and ignorantly.
The human beings and survivors who are marching and supporting the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement (myself included) are advocating for insight, growth, equality, safety, ownership and change. The marches have been peaceful, beautiful, healing and inclusive.
Tarana Burke (founder of the Me Too movement) has been a beacon of light, expressing her truth with dignity and giving hope to millions.
Nanine standing up and respectfully stating her opinion to you peacefully was not a show of anger. It was a show of advocacy.
However, your response was most definitely and inappropriately angry. You were talking loudly and rapidly over her vs. hearing her thoughts. You were not open. You were not present. You were not willing. You were tone deaf and aggressive.
And you were wrong.
If you, and the others who follow you don't see this, then you/they are part of the problem. Not part of the solution.
What is the most challenging aspect of this for me, beyond your behavior with Nanine, is that, by your own admission, you have influenced a great many "famous, rich, powerful men", many of whom are responsible for hiring in their companies and organizations. They hang on your words as scripture. Thus, a generation has been impacted by your mentorship and leadership and influence, and that is much deeper than an "oops" moment at one of your shows.
Your apology, two weeks after you were recorded saying these things, and 24 hours after the video went viral is a tiny step. However, given that you had your legal team threatening the brave person who posted the video (I believe she goes by "Butterscotch"), and that you have been attempting to bury what happened, it is tough to accept your apology as anything but CYA given the timing.
If you really do have remorse, and realized you were wrong once you saw this video, then why didn't you simply post the video on your social media pages, apologize, and deconstruct what you did and said that was wrong two weeks ago vs. hours after the backlash?
What I sincerely hope happens is that you will sit with those of us in this movement and listen without interruption. That you will dig deep to examine your biases. That you step away from the stage and the lights for a season. That you will stop pontificating and instead allow yourself to heal and to be taught.
Tony, with all due respect and sincerity, you need to be a student for a while.
Any of us who provide healing and teaching must step back and be students now and then to learn, heal, and move forward on our journey. Otherwise, we lose perspective, or we cease to grow and evolve. Or we fall in love with our own ego, voice, story and message.
I realize that you live in a very different world than most of us. I would imagine your world is filled with high stakes, big deals, the rich and famous, a lot on the line, and fast talkers. I understand that you have an image to protect, and that you likely hustle to stay relevant. I would imagine it is very difficult to be vulnerable, to know who truly has your back, who you can trust that is not on your pay roll, who will tell you "no" now and then, and who sets boundaries with you. I can imagine it is difficult to let down your guard and be truly vulnerable (not vulnerability that is manufactured for the audience) when you are out of the lime light.
I hope that this experience will be a seminal moment in your personal and spiritual evolution, and that you will come back to your stage and position more insightful and educated. I also hope that you will, with grace, humility and candor, begin to use your platform in a way that truly promotes healing and change.
Finally, I hope that you will join us at the next #MeToo march in January 2019 and experience this beautiful day for yourself. In spite of being wounded by your words and actions, I would welcome you joining us to march, as I am sure most survivors would.
Thank you for your willingness to hear my thoughts in my blog here, and in my letter, but more importantly thank you for you willingness to heal, grow and model your new normal.
The world is watching.
With compassion and God bless you,
Mari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S
Growth Counseling Services
Founder of The Counselor's Coach
Author of Facing Heartbreak: Steps to Recovery for Partners of Sex Addicts
Glendora, California, USA
I work as a woman’s counsellor in Gold Coast, Australia. Through this, I have had the sad privilege of hearing many client stories of trauma and abuse over the years.
Recently I watched in horror as you used physically pushed and bullied sexual abuse survivor Nanine McCool at your conference.
I am concerned you have forgotten humility in favour of ego. I am baffled that you feel you know what is best for people after talking to them so briefly. I cannot understand how you can feel this is empowering people. I’m afraid I see it as disempowering, as you take control and order them around – is this not what their previous abusers did?
I would like to have seen you be more specific in your apology, so that I could see someone trying to learn from the experience. Unfortunately I saw a token ‘sorry’ and more about you than the victims of your onslaught.
I really hope you have learned from this experience.
Here’s a suggestion: instead of trying to dominate and control your attendees, try staying humble and curious. You could learn from them.
Karen Holmes, Counselor
Founder of Brighter Day Counseling Center
Gold Coast, Queensland
Years ago I attended your “weekend of power”. It was exhilarating in the way that a charismatic and dynamic speaker can move and sway an auditorium of 3,000 plus people. The shared experience was powerful but all of it was recognizable. And I was fine with it: the repackaged self -help tropes, the multi-media aided, guided visualizations, focus on the insidious damage that individuals do to themselves with negative self-talk. It was fun and to an extent, it spoke to me at that time in my life.
The hard truth came to me during a dynamic evening speech where obvious plants in the audience threw their prescription bottles up on stage. You picked one up and remarked, “Xanax… huh! Wow… that’s a good one…”, and went on to carefully tip toe around your disdain for psychiatric medications.
What was initially prompted by seeming plants in the audience then spurred 40-50 people running to the stage in tears, pelting the curtains with their prescription bottles. This was prior to my transition to the mental health profession, but due to a history of mental illness in my family, I was well schooled in the pros and cons of medication.
I came away from the experience disappointed, understanding that you package and sell a “quick fix” for many people who are searching their path for meaning. It’s a quick fix that takes work, and of course that work is aided by the vast array of your available-for-purchase materials in the lobby.
Your recent tone-deaf mansplaining of the #metoo movement was at best, callous and at worst the manifestation of vicious Western Protestant Work Ethic that admonishes people to just “get it together” without taking into consideration the impact of culture, socialization, trauma, gender inequality and genetics.
Finally, while I understand that you had a brief period in your life where you were unmotivated, unemployed and overweight, well, that’s a common experience for most young people coming out of college.
I hope that you will seek the help you need in order to better understand what trauma and recovery mean.
Dr. Scott Musgrove, PsyD, LMFT
Pasadena, California, USA
I would like to remind you that a key characteristic that empowers survival (and healing) from abuse is our increased capacity, individually and collectively, to discern both overt and covert expressions of hypocrisy, manipulation and exploitation.
Not only do we utilize this discernment to recover and reclaim ourselves, we use it to protect and defend others who suffer from similar abuses of power and privilege.
Gaelyn Rae Emerson, ICF Associate Certified Coach
Two words that come to mind when I watched the San Jose video : “So wrong”.
Using your massive body to physically push back Nanine while trying to make erroneous points about the #metoo movement, and you interrupting Nanine’s speaking up to express herself are not remotely OK. I imagine it took a lot of guts for Nanine to confront someone as famous as yourself and in a huge arena of your fans.
I’m hoping that your apology is sincere and you will take some time to reflect on the meaning of the #metoo movement. I hope you will begin to examine your views on “big, powerful men not hiring attractive females” is repugnant for so many reasons, but mainly because it perpetuates this male misogyny that we as men are not responsible in confronting and changing this.
Dig deep Tony, and do become the student by reaching out to those in the #metoo movement. Dialogue, learn and reflect how we as men need to be agents of change. Do become part of the solution by continuing to confront the male misogyny publicly and privately.
Paul Inglizian, LCSW
Sherman Oaks, California, USA
I’ve been a fan of yours for many years. I went to see your "Share the Power Within" in NYC, and then I traveled to Washington DC a few weeks ago because I knew you would be speaking at the Psychotherapy Networker Conference.
Tony, while I have gained support from your work, I must tell you that I was super disheartened to read what you said. As a woman, mother and therapist, your words sound as if they are coming from a broken man who wasn’t parented in loving ways, and in spite of who you are, you still have much healing to do.
There are times when you come off as nothing else but brash, arrogant, abrasive, aggressive, and confrontational. And this is coming from someone who has been a huge fan of yours. I launched my group practice after I went to go see you, so clearly you have motivated me. However, given what has transpired, it is also clear that you must begin to humble yourself, heal and grow.
And, if someone (or thousands of someones) tell you that you have hurt them, then you must re-evaluate and see how you went wrong.
No one is above that. Not even you Tony.
Holding the hope for your growth and healing.
Noreen Iqbal, LCSW
Olive Branch Therapy Group
East Brunswick, New Jersey, USA
It’s been incredibly disappointing to watch the way you have responded to the #MeToo campaign. Alienating ½ of the population of the world was quite possibly not on your to-do list.
I understand that you may think that you don’t need to listen to the criticism and the disappointment of the hundreds of thousands of people who follow you, however, could you please listen, and please take notice and please adopt some change. The world is now looking to you to lead by example and actually change!
It is obvious that you already know that you are in a significant position of power and influence and with that comes great responsibility. This is where I see the potential for great harm.
You must be aware that the mental health community and those who serve people living through trauma are horrified by your belittlement of people who are quite obviously traumatised. We get that people need to heal and move on – but they need to take the time to HEAL, not ignore what has happened and pretend that it no longer is an issue.
It is hard enough for people who need help to reach out and seek it, ask for it and accept that they need help. You are not doing them any favours in continuing to deny that trauma is a real experience. It’s comments like yours that actively contribute to the ongoing stigmatization of people’s health and continue to prevent people from accessing the care they need.
Please stop this now.
Founder& Principal Consultant
I believe that you are a person who feels called to help others.
You have chosen to help people who are struggling. Suicidal. Traumatized. Abused. Vulnerable. It is your responsibility to understand these individuals and at minimum, do no harm.
As a person of influence, it is also your responsibility to hold yourself to a high standard of behaviour. No one is perfect, but if you’re going to work in this field, you need to be a model for those you coach.
I sincerely hope that you reflect on your comments and behaviour from your event in San Jose. I feel your actions were damaging at best, abusive at worst.
Tony, I know that you can do better than this. I look forward to hearing more about how you plan to educate yourself about #MeToo.
Jennie Ward, PhD, Registered Clinical Psychologist
Director, Ward & Associates Psychological Services
Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada
I have tried, I have really tried to understand how you could treat anyone the way you treated Nanine McCool at your event.
When I first saw the video I had no sound on, and I was appalled, horrified, and angry that anyone would use their power as a public figure, a person larger than the intended target, and a male to literally push a woman speaking up as a survivor of abuse backward across a room. No words you utter or write could repair that image.
Do you understand that in that moment, life was happening to your target? You were happening. And you were using your power to intimidate and overpower her.
As a therapist, as a mom of three young women who were all horrifically abused before being removed from their birth families, as a grief specialist who works with people who are grieving parts of their lives, including their losses from sexual victimization, I cannot fathom what you thought you were doing.
Further, your public apology is not what it needed to be.
When a child is being abused, life, and abuse, is happening to them. The same goes for any adult being sexually assaulted. They do not have any power other than to do their very best to survive the situation and try to heal as they can.
Your target on that video did not either.
Chirpy soundbites do not begin to address the impact of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse, at any age, is about one having power and having total control, and one being victimized. Recovery is about reclaiming power. Re-victimization is about someone targeting a prior victim who may have recovered. And Tony, like it or not, that is what you have done.
I hope you will find someone to work with to heal your own challenges and issues; to help you come to terms with your shortsightedness. If you do not, then the consequence is that you will continue to re-victimize some who attend your events.
The real heroes. Honor them.
Check yourself. Check your power.
Jill A. Johnson-Young, LCSW
Co-Founder and Director of Central Counseling Services
Riverside, California, USA
As a women that is a survivor and a psychotherapist, I am appalled by your words, actions and behaviors toward Ms. McCool and the Me Too movement. The hundreds of women that I have worked with do not consider themselves victims and are ready to be heard and not bullied.
You certainly do need to educate yourself to what the MeToo movement means and who we women are. In your forum you shamed the Me Too movement by saying we are using our stories to gain significance. I don’t see anyone using their story for personal gain.
Rather we are marching to bring awareness of the sexual harassment that has gone on for years. Many of us women have survived the kind of harassment and use of intimidation from “powerful men” - the same kind of behavior that you directed to Ms. McCool.
Your actions on that video are a perfect example of a man using his power to belittle, harass, and intimidate a women. And frankly, if anyone has used his “story” for personal gain it has been you.
As a clinician educated in trauma and its' effects, I often question how many people feel lost after the excitement of a weekend with you ends, especially since they have opened up some seriously raw emotions and feelings. To me that is exploitation for personal gain.
I honestly hesitated to share my thoughts because good publicity or bad publicity you are still receiving great attention which ultimately will benefit you in this crazy world of media.
I do hope you learn something from this and take the time to reflect and educate yourself on subjects you obviously know very little about.
Joanne Koegl, LMFT
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
Pasadena, California, USA
To Tony Robbins,
Let me preface my opinions in this matter as that of an observer. I do not know you nor have I ever been to any of your events. I have however, watched many of your videos and read a lot of your information.
I have been in my own recovery for 15 years and am now an experienced counselor and psychotherapist working with others in recovery. At times I am left speechless with what I have observed of the brash displays of showmanship and theatre that is a Tony Robbins event.
Additionally, I am aghast at the damage that potentially can be done to a very vulnerable population who follow you and who are searching for answers. I might add these answers come with a very hefty price tag!
If you are looking to quickly jumpstart motivation or increase a neural chemical rush, then by all means, take off your shoes and run like hell across a fire pit!
But...if like many of us, your troubles started with trauma, betrayal and neglect then being bullied, exposed and shamed in front of thousands of people, is not and I repeat, NOT, going to facilitate long term and deep healing. These events are not therapy!
I have scoured the internet and I’ll be damned that no where, no where, can I find any qualifications for you Mr. Robbins as a licensed therapist, even though I hear you dishing out copious amounts of advice to lonely unsuspecting people.
The bullying behavior and stand over tactics I have observed in you make me cringe for the hearts of those involved.
I hope that the people who follow you will take a deep breath and become educated about mental health. Then make wise, researched decisions, using only qualified practitioners!
Your life may very well depend on it!
Rebecca Higgins, B.App.Soc.Sc (Couns) CSAT-C
Making millions as a Life coach, author and motivational speaker doesn’t mean you actually know what you are doing with each and every person, especially those with mental illnesses, or those who are dealing with complex trauma and PTSD.
It is very important for you to begin to understand that using methods from evidence based practices and treatment modalities, those recognized by scientific organizations and backed by empirical evidence, is why we have mental health professionals in our world.
Your use of pop psychology may sell tickets and offer your attendees a temporary quick fix. However, it is your responsibility to make sure your fans and followers, many who look to you as their guru, leader, and follow every word you say, understand the benefits of seeking support from trained and licensed therapists who spent years in college, plus additional on-going clinical education throughout their careers.
While dispensing your anecdotal brand of street-corner, front-stoop advice, please get back in touch with your integrity and compassion in order to refrain from making future mean-spirited statements about vulnerable women who have been hurt enough already.
Yolette Bernard Heil, MBA, MSW
Long Island, NY, USA
You have catapulted yourself into an influential power position in contemporary society. With that choice comes profound responsibility.
When you espouse an ideology filled with inflated doctrine, then make a passive attempt to counteract that mistake with "I've been abused and coached abused people", it doesn't change one simple fact: That fact is you are NOT a woman who has been sexually abused and sexually harassed.
You don't know what it means to have lived through, #Metoo.
Mr. Robbins when was the last time you were objectified and sexually abused as a woman? When was the last time you experienced sexual harassment in the workplace? How about being chased after by your boss into a women's bathroom and being yelled at with, "Oh, I know what it means when you were a dress like that". How about being groped by a male manager? When was the last time you were a woman who was pushed backwards by a man who was overpowering you in weight and size?
That's right you haven't. You are not a woman.
#Metoo acknowledges what we have survived. We no longer suffer in silence. We are making changes and taking names worldwide with our collective voice. If you tout, "the teacher has to become the student and I have much to learn", then perhaps it's time to pick up that #2 pencil and go back to school to take some notes on what it means to be trauma-informed! It's time to stop pushing us around!
#Metoo Elizabeth A. Poth
Elizabeth A. Poth, MS, LPC, ATR, CSAT Candidate, CCPS Candidate
Licensed Professional Counselor, Registered Art Therapist, Certified Sex Addiction Therapist Candidate, Certified Clinical Partner Specialist Candidate
Founder, Odonata Wellness Center
Hartland, Wisconsin, USA