The day the first article was posted about Tony Robbins and his scandals, people kept sending me it, asking me if I was surprised.
No, I was definitely not surprised.
I know coaches and mentors who have worked with Tony, others who have followed him closely, and excitedly – and I’ve watched the tendrils of patriarchy creep into their work. I haven’t worked with him and I can’t say what is truth or not truth in that particular situation. I CAN point out things that make me uncomfortable, things that look like yellow and red flags, and what lessons the community as a whole can take from this situation.
Even in the spiritual community, what sneaks in past that surface level? What lessons are we supposed to be learning? And are we learning them?
Working with a toxic mentor is like being tossed into the deep end to learn how to swim.
If you succeed, there’s obvious growth. Yay, you learned how to swim! …But will you be able to swim when your life doesn’t depend on it? Will you have to get tossed back into trauma to be able to repeat this? Does that even count as growth? Sorta, but not really – true transformation sticks. It’s about character growth. And along that journey, wouldn’t you rather your mentor support you when you sink, instead of blasting Beck’s Loser and essentially telling you it’s your own fault? They picked you up and tossed you to the sharks – you were supposed to do the rest. Who cares about your PTSD, or your life mission, or anything else – they guided you to the water. Shouldn’t your mentor find the methods that are going to stimulate your own growth, instead of simply focusing on what they do and guiding you down repetitions of their own journey?
It’s not okay to shame your clients.
It’s not okay to mock their traumas – or use their traumas to sell your next program. (Yes, even if you’re touting how you helped them overcome those traumas. Get consent or keep it to yourself.)
It’s not okay to guilt them into working with you – or pulling an example from the unraveling Tony Robbins case: exhaust them until their guards drop, feed them the energy of a raving crowd, and then tell them they need this to get the next level.
Toxic mentors are creeping through the industry at all levels. From the newcomers to the Tonys.
They are the ones who offer you special pricing if you make the decision to work with them in the next 12 hours! – and promise to teach you how to honor your energy…while making you distinctly work against your energy during that decision period. (From a Human Design standpoint, a lot of people aren’t supposed to make instant decisions.) Which teaches you to be dependent on them for clarity…and for the path back to the connection with your energy. For the record, spiritual codependency isn’t any healthier than romantic codependency.
Reminder: if your mentor has been mentored by someone problematic, toxic, or embedded in the patriarchy – that is likely traveling down the mentor generation unless they have become distinctly aware of the harm that’s been done to them, and that energy and lessons are being passed on to you.
Are those mentors at fault? No, not necessarily. This isn’t always a conscious act. But as a mentor, it is always our responsibility to question what is happening around us, and question our own actions to make sure they are truly what is best for those supported by us.
The line starts with the Tonys of the world – “Oh, you have a problem with me working naked around you? Well, that’s your problem.” And as it travels down the mentor generation, it instead becomes “Oh, it makes you uncomfortable when I say that the only way you’re going to achieve success is if you follow this plan entirely, well that’s your money block showing up to stop you.” Or it becomes “Oh, you didn’t achieve the results I promised and guaranteed to you, well that’s because you didn’t do the work.” (Even though you’ve done everything they told you to!)
Translation: they hold no responsibility for their part of the relationship.
Gaslighting is still gaslighting, even if it’s wrapped up in love and light.
Mentoring or coaching someone is NOT just about hopping on the phone with someone for an hour for “easy money” – and if that’s what you think it is, it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re actually doing any good to the community you serve.
Being a transformational (and responsible!) mentor is about impact, not influence.
And ultimately the depth of that impact is what leads you to have a sustainable and successful business without all the hustle – but that’s another story.
With Tony, remember that this is the man whose response to suicide is “Oh give me a break, you can take another 30 years of this shit! You’re not that f*cking weak!” Or that women speaking up in the #MeToo movement were essentially victims looking for attention.
“If you use the #MeToo movement to try to get significance and certainty by attacking and destroying someone else… all you’ve done is basically use a drug called significance to make yourself feel good.”—Tony Robbins
Or that we should ask women what they did to deserve emotional and physical abuse – what’s their part of it?
Note that in that particular example, he then tells this woman that her husband is trying to love her. If you haven’t seen the red flags already, I’m handing you this one. The equation of love does not include physical abuse, and any mentor should not be asking you what you did to cause this, or how you’ve been a “crazy bitch”. This is not a self-love issue. This is a honey, you need to get the fuck out of this relationship issue – and I’ll say that clearly as someone who has been in an abusive relationship that I didn’t think I’d survive.
I have no problem with cursing. I have no problem with using blunt language – but as a mentor, it’s also our responsibility to determine what someone can handle and respond to. If we re-traumatize someone, we aren’t helping them – we’re hindering them. It’s a fine line to walk, with a lot of responsibility – but that’s the art of truly serving our clients.
Not sure if you’re in or have been in a toxic mentor-mentee relationship?
Reach out. Bring someone else’s opinion into it – someone with no ties to the other party. Watch this video on unhealthy mentor relationships, and this one on healing from toxic mentor relationships. See what resonates, and what doesn’t.
If you need to just talk this out and be heard and seen through this, please feel free to reach out to me through here, Voxer, or Instagram. If you’re still not sure, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Are you often told it’s your victim mentality preventing you from success?
- Is one of the most common responses you get related to your “blocks” or resistance being the reason why you aren’t succeeding?
- When you don’t feel comfortable, is your advice/strategy adjusted, or are you just told it’s your resistance?
- Note: It might be your resistance – but a good mentor should help you determine whether it is, or isn’t.
- Is your advice actually customized to you and your preferences, or are you supposed to follow an one size fits all plan?
- Have you ever felt shamed? Or afraid to tell your mentor something?
- Have you ever been concerned about how your mentor would respond to something you’re telling them?
- Are your past experiences and traumas being considered with care?
- Are you told to take responsible action? Or are you encouraged to take potentially reckless actions because the Universe will support you?
Yes – toxic mentorship exists, and yes, it exists in the spiritual/conscious/enlightened/love and light/insert your catchphrase here community.
It’s our responsibility to recognize it, and like any other generational wound, neutralize the energy. It’s our responsibility to better educate ourselves so that we can serve our clients better – be better educators, better mentors, better facilitators (and yes, the three do go together!). It’s our responsibility to start turning the tides to a new wave of coaching and mentorship where toxic behavior gets noticed immediately – instead of quietly behind the scenes being the isolated person wondering if it’s just you.
It’s not just you. And it’s time for us to do better.