We all have blindspots and society has a big one on abuse.
You would think that abuse is abuse, especially for Tony Robbins. The reality is, we all have many blind spots, and Tony is no different, regardless of the pressure on him to appear fully actualised in the personal development industry. Physical abuse is a no brainer; Hurting someone physically or assaulting someone sexually is against the law. However, when it gets into emotional and mental abuse, this is where the law and even society struggles to comprehend, discern and decide how to react and deal with it to protect the innocent. We as a society have a massive blind spot on such an important issue.
It is changing though because there is an uprising, which does not tolerate abuse of any kind. The #MeToo movement amongst many are about calling abuse and harassment exactly what it is and holding the perpetrators accountable. While it is focused on women, nothing can stop something like a #MeThree movement for men, because we know in many situations, men are struggling with abuse too.
There is a split in society on this issue exemplified by the conflict between the #MeToo Movement and Tony Robbins. His struggle to acknowledge legitimate victimisation because he was too preoccupied with empowering people out of being a victim, stunned many of his fans and sent social media into a frenzy.
I did send Tony Robbins this tweet: –
— George Helou (@GeorgeHelouEP7) April 10, 2018
My theory on Tony Robbins’ blind spot
You become desensitised to abuse if you have been abused, especially as a child when you are most susceptible to taking on the views of your role models. Unfortunately, your brain wires to normalise the behaviour, whether your innate better nature agrees with it or not. This is why we have many good intentioned, well-meaning people, being so disrespectful, abrupt and abusive in their approach. The approach feels justified to them because they are simply modelling how they were raised. They also think they are doing the best by others with what they believe is a legitimate and necessary approach.
You also can become so desperate to be free of abuse, you are triggered by other people who are abused. You become overly eager to motivate them out of their disempowerment as you are involuntarily reliving the pain as they share their story. As you attempt to help them, their lack of cooperation can annoy and even anger you. In the case of Tony Robbins and the #MeToo movement, Tony saw women getting passionate and determined about encouraging each other to speak up. I think he may have automatically been triggered into a reaction that was denying them the reality that they were abused and victimised. This is because he was already jumping ahead and wanting them to join him in a future where they are embracing an identity that was free from that disempowering and hurtful state of being.
I wonder whether Tony may at some point recognise he was not grounded enough to engage the process he usually follows instinctively. That process where you first validate the person and their experience. No healing happens until you honour your emotions and appreciate that the event was painful, and you did not deserve it, whether you contributed to the event occurring in some small way or not at all.
Tony ignored his own process
He could have easily acknowledged that the Me Too Movement is a vital step in the empowering process. Where you are courageous enough to know you deserve better. Are ready to speak up for what you want and don’t want in your life. As well as be willing to confront the problem with whoever it may be. He then could have continued on about the importance of what comes next to set yourself truly free and everyone would have been united on such an important issue.
Understanding the role of emotions
Instead, Tony went on about how bad anger is, even if a victim of abuse feels it in reaction to abuse. Anger is not a bad emotion if you use it when it’s appropriate. As long as you don’t get stuck in it. Anger is useful if it’s a reaction to abuse because it facilitates appropriate aggressive behaviour to defend yourself and you’re in action to change your environment to restore safety.
Every emotion has a legitimate purpose and is meant to be brought to completion to fulfil each experience. It’s what being human is about. Even shame is important because it motivates someone to understand what harm they have caused and to make a decision to be responsible and become a better person. Regardless of my point, Tony knows that we can get stuck in the emotions and it gets very destructive to us and those around us. Hence, he was focused on addressing that point as he often does.
Tony said that speaking up means you are chasing being significant and this poses a risk of identifying with being a victim as your only form of significance. This is a powerful point and I understand where he is coming from. However, not speaking up has a consequence of encouraging more bullying. Suppressing your anger has a consequence of making you bitter and can create chronic diseases. Feeling too insignificant to speak the truth of what has happened to you creates consequences of epic proportions to your wellbeing and to the parts of society that is complicit in encouraging this denial and suppression.
You have to validate first
Only after you sincerely validate someone who has been harassed, bullied, assaulted or abused with patience, empathy and compassion, do you then explore what their freedom can look like. Why Tony was not following this simple process that he has followed countless times over 4 decades leads me to speculate that his traumas were triggered and he and a large part of his loyal followers (being blindly loyal) were missing his disconnect with the genuine and empowering purpose of the #MeToo Movement.
This was Tony Robbins official apology: –
— Tony Robbins (@TonyRobbins) April 8, 2018
Tony was not going to apologise without understanding what he had done wrong, which is fair enough. Reading his apology helped me connect to his sincere regret that he felt misunderstood and his eagerness to make up for it. With his influence, he can make a difference to the #MeToo Movement and I sense he will come good on this very soon. What I did notice however, is that he didn’t go into why this happened to him, despite the fact his intentions were good with a track record of empowering millions globally, who had been victimised.
Maybe it’s his personal fear of anyone being and staying a victim. It made him run headfirst into the success he has achieved to help others run hard and fast with him. And maybe that causes a level of self-neglect, keeping him from fully grasping and acknowledging what actually happened to him that lit that fire at the beginning when he was at rock bottom. Perhaps no-one validated him and that pain lives on within him, masked by his success and constant busy schedule.
If you don’t fully grasp what has happened to you and can speak about it from a place of knowing you didn’t deserve it and it’s unacceptable, it stays unresolved in you, no matter how much success you create in the material world. Feeling the sadness of what happened to you rather than intellectualising it – is indeed empowering. Emotionally validating yourself is self-empathy that can be facilitated by empathy from others. Tony’s lack of empathy and understanding of this point is what created the blowback.
Tony should go deeper than feeling misunderstood
I hope Tony attracts good counsel that can give him questions to contemplate. For instance, “Why was I too eager to move someone out of a victim state and deny them the right to acknowledge they were victimised in the first place?”, “Why was I so impatient?”, “Why was my focus on the challenges to a movement that was encouraging women to be courageous and speak up?” and “What was it about this context in relation to my personal life, that made me not follow my own process of validating the pain and injustice first?”
The temptation for his inner circle to privately create an “us vs them” mentality to give him support and reassurance is always going to be there. I just hope, enough of his most trusted advisors will choose to help him dig deeper. Rather than perpetuate the notion that he was simply misunderstood. I think the opportunity for Tony is to realise he is yet to fully understand himself. After all, we all really are a work in progress and the journey into the centre of who we really are is never ending.
The issue with blind loyalty and fanaticism
To this moment there are loyal Tony Robbins followers who say the 11 minute video was spun into a misleading angle to hurt him. Will those fans realise they are being fanatical and blindly loyal, given that Tony has since apologised? What will they do with this situation where they are defending while he has already taken responsibility?
Perhaps they can detach, slow it down and begin sitting with the details of what really is going on. Being loyal to the truth rather than an individual is hard to do when someone who has made a massive difference in your life is being attacked. Like I always say, let the truth do the heavy lifting. Tony has created a legacy which no-one can take away. We don’t have to make him a saint and insist that he must be perfect. This denies the reality that our humility and opportunity to grow applies to every person on the planet for their lifetime. Tony knows that!
The purpose of creating accountability
If you place the responsibility on you changing your life to break free from abuse, this is the only way. Tony is a champion of helping people do this. Only you can change you and changing anyone else is a massive and sometimes impossible task. However, why should we ignore the fact you were abused and it was very bad for you? Why should creating accountability not be a part of being responsible to deter the perpetrator from continuing to abuse, thereby experiencing the full courage and empowerment within you being expressed, while making it safer for others?
Otherwise, abusers will continue to get a free ride by those too afraid to hold them to account. And in the Tony Robbins corner, those that are ashamed to be a victim and have to remain in denial of it in their desperate need to be set free, are inadvertently contributing to the same problem. What if we all abuse in some way when we are struggling? What if being held accountable so we confront what we are doing, is the only way we will finally be a part of the solution by changing ourselves?
The slippery slope on each side is causing polarised arguments when the principled centre says, take responsibility for your healing and success while holding others accountable in a balanced, meaningful and effective way. While many like Tony can’t stand the sight of people creating a profession out of being a victim, it is equally repulsive if one turns a blind eye and remains tolerant of chronic abusers, no matter how well intentioned they may be. Often, once we drill down far enough, it turns out we all want the same thing.