Should You Visit an Anger Room?

What to consider before you do.

Posted May 07, 2017

“Hello. Is this the place where I can come to smash dishes and lamps and other things when I’m angry?

The young woman who recently called me caught me off guard, as I had not yet been familiar with the current trend—one that might soon be coming to your city. The caller was referring to an Anger Room. This is a service started in Dallas by Donna Alexander in 2011. It offers you the opportunity to be in a room, for $25 for five minutes, to give free reign to your emotional brain to destroy printers, lamps, glasses, dishes, vases and similar items. According to a New York Times article, frustrated voters in New York made a fall pilgrimage to Toronto to visit its Rage Room. And, more recently, those living near Atlanta can visit the Break Room for the same service.

Customers are provided the necessary protective equipment such as a helmet, goggles and gloves and their  “weapon” of choice–a bat, a pipe, golf clubs or any object that can exert destructive power. Employees as well as donations provide the objects. And, they offer a choice of music to listen to while engaging in this novel “sport."

Such an experience may provide immediate satisfaction. However, I strongly feel the need to voice my opposition to adding it to the menu of strategies for the constructive management of anger. I might be “old school” but I have trouble seeing participating in such rooms as the equivalent to the benefits of getting a massage, going for a run, or participating in yoga.

In the movie classic Pretty Woman, Edward (Richard Gere) amusingly declares to Vivian (Julia Roberts) that it took him five years of psychoanalysis to state out loud, “I’m angry," with regard to his father. He clearly struggled with recognizing and acknowledging his anger. Some would argue, therefore, that patients like Edward should be encouraged to visit the anger room. However, there are a wide variety of clinical strategies to help clients access their emotions without acting on them.

Adobe Stock
Source: Adobe Stock

Hitting Bobo dolls and punching or slamming a pillow against a wall were just a few of the many anger management strategies therapists offered patients in the ‘70’s. These activities were intended to help clients vent and get in touch with their anger. In part, the approach reflected the view that one should “Let it all hang out."

Research, however, has ultimately concluded that repeatedly engaging in such activities might best be described as “rehearsal," thus making one more prone to engage in such activities.This perspective is further supported by recent neuroscience research, which finds that the repetition of certain thoughts, feelings or behavior, trains the brain to make it more likely to engage those thoughts, feelings and behavior. So while using an anger room may provide a temporary decrease in physical tension associated with anger and other feelings, it may increase the likelihood of future acting out.

Anger is a natural emotion that offers us invaluable information—if we take the time to explore it. Anger stems from some perceived threat. Additionally, it is almost always a reaction to and distraction from some form of inner suffering that might include feelings such as shame, fear, powerlessness, self-doubt, and inadequacy as well as feelings of betrayal or diminishment. And, when fully explored, it is also about some key desire that may feel challenged or thwarted–such as a desire for connection, validation, trust, or safety. As such, every moment engaged in anger is a temporary reprieve from some form of inner pain.

The use of an Anger Room may momentarily reduce the tension felt from the arousal of anger or ongoing hostility. As one CNN commentator reported, following her experience in an anger room, “I feel better. Much better!”

Using an anger room may provide a quick fix. However, doing so robs us of the opportunities for greater self-reflection and understanding the complexity of our anger.

Specifically, using an anger room:

  1. Offers no insight regarding those feelings and thoughts that foster the arousal of anger.
  2. Offers no insight into the wounds or inner pain that can make us vulnerable to anger arousal.
  3. May serve as rehearsal for further acting out anger.
  4. Emphasizes the momentary reward of destructive rather than more constructive strategies.
  5. Further highlights the expectations of a quick and easy fix to our problems.

By contrast, constructive strategies that contribute to healthy anger include:

  1. Physical activities such as running, working out, or sports,
  2. Relaxation exercises, yoga, and breathing exercises that foster calmness,
  3. Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation,
  4. Compassion-focused skills,
  5. Communication skills,
  6. Expanding one’s repertoire of skill to enhance happiness,
  7. Self-reflection to promote greater emotional intelligence,
  8. Learning specific skills, e.g., skills in parenting, management in the workplace,and dealing with difficult people, and
  9. Addressing old wounds that may make one vulnerable to anger arousal whether through self-help activities or seeking the help of a mental health professional.

The use of an anger room highlights the immediate rewards of destruction and reduced tension. It may offer a moment of pleasure rather than lasting understanding and skills.

By contrast, cultivating healthy anger entails learning how to pause and reflect on rather than react to our anger. It requires patience, practice and commitment. It involves learning new habits by which to more constructively manage anger and a greater flexibility in being able to choose those strategies that might be most constructive for a given situation. Healthy anger supports strengthening our rational mind in being able to see the bigger picture rather than being held hostage by our emotional mind.