Have you heard the phrase ‘trigger warning’?

Per the internet, it’s a statement at the beginning of a piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material. The warning is meant to help people — such as those with post-traumatic stress disorder — make a choice about what they’re about to witness.

I feel like the documentary Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru should come with a trigger warning.

If you don’t know anything about Tony Robbins, he’s a self-help guru who encourages people to achieve breakthroughs — whatever the heck that means. His movie highlights a week-long personal improvement seminar where severely broken people try to change their lives.

And it was tough to watch.

Right from the beginning, we learn that Robbins charges $5,000 per person for this event. There were 2500 attendees, and many told harrowing personal stories of physical abuse, sexual assault and even living in a cult.

I was overcome by the sheer sadness of the documentary. Honestly, it knocked me back on my ass. I saw how people would give anything to unburden themselves from the pain of humanity, and all I kept thinking is that the biggest breakthroughs in life don’t come from seminars and programs. They come from deep, quiet, private, thoughtful work that takes more than six days.

Not that a weeklong Tony Robbins course isn’t helpful. Sorta. Maybe. 

From mindfulness to purpose, he’s offering a crash course in resiliency and project management. I can see why business leaders and celebrities love him. And if you’re a smart person with the means to attend one of these courses, you’ll probably come away with tools and tips to begin a journey.

But, oh man, it’s a journey.

And when Tony Robbins tells his audience that he knows human behavior and pain — and we fucking know that he fucking knows it, according to his own language — I want to counter by asking, “So what?”

Because knowing something on an intellectual level is different than understanding it at a profound level and being able to affect change.

And, just like Tony Robbins, I know people. I fucking know people. While a roadmap and a six-day seminar can be helpful in breaking through some pain and achieving an increase in your life on an incremental level, his approach feels reckless and uninformed. 

I truly worry about some of the attendees who are shown in film. I worry about those who show up at one of his seminars feeling suicidal or trying to overcome the psychological impact of sexual and physical abuse. A week-long workshop with Tony could be helpful, but it looks pretty dangerous. 

When someone slaps a “buyer beware” sign on his product and tells you that he’s not your guru, you should believe him. Whatever you’re looking for, keep looking.


  1. I have a colleague that recently did this. She had wanted to for awhile and saved up to attend. I was/am skeptical, but it was important to her so I tried to be supportive and hopefully was.

    She loved it and I think it gave her some good insights on some patterns of hers that have not been so good. But the hard work has just begun. I try to tell her it won’t be fixed overnight. It took you 50 years to learn these habits.

    I worry because I think if she can’t turn it around, a seminar like this makes it worse. And it feels like it’s targeting the most vulnerable which is concerning. But I truly do hope it helps.

  2. Finally! Everyone I have encountered who watched it found it so good. I felt exactly the opposite. And I fucking now hard times. But Jesus! I can’t see that Tony yelling at me and cussing in my face about it would have made it any better. I don’t know, feels like a huge ego trip to me.

  3. I agree it is a journey that is not done in 5 days and my concern is that some of the, less damaged, attendees simply misinterpret these messages as not ‘you need to dig deep to find yourself’ and end up with ‘just make sure you are the only person who is OK in all of this’ and I see some people become very selfish as a result of his sessions.

  4. thanks for this, Laurie. I am concerned that he is taking advantage of very vulnerable people.

    PS. I think you meant to say “his approach feels reckless and UNINFORMED.”

    instead of
    “his approach feels reckless and INFORMED.”

    Thought you might want to correct this.

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