Anger is a universal, normal human emotion. Everyone experiences anger and frustration at one time or another. However, what we do with our anger can vary considerably. We all have different triggers, threshold levels, and coping mechanisms to help us to manage angry feelings and emotions. Some coping skills are healthy, while others are much less so. Exercising, punching a pillow, running around the block, or listening to music are all examples of healthy anger management techniques. Picking a fight, destroying household objects, or punching someone in the face are definitively more maladaptive and can have long-lasting and problematic consequences.
Catharsis, or the release of repressed emotions was a central concept to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. Freud believed that experiencing repressed emotions would bring about emotional and psychological relief. Rage rooms were developed from the concept of cartharsis and provide individuals with an opportunity to act out angry impulses in a safe and controlled environment. For a fee, an individual is invited to liberate their anger in whatever fashion they deem appropriate amongst a room full of helpless objects and destructive tools.
Rage rooms are advertised as a form of entertainment and as a mechanism of self-care. Rage rooms are increasing in popularity and becoming more readily available across the country. Although rage rooms are marketed as a tool of self-care, is venturing into a room with the sole purpose of smashing objects actually healthy? Is the subliminal message really that no other coping skills are necessary as long as there is a rage room nearby? If this is the case, do rage rooms actually trigger more aggression if we are no longer coping in more subtle ways?
There has been a significant amount of discussion in regards to catharsis and aggression. Some believe that purging anger in the short-term may release frustration, but could actually become rewarding in the long-term. In this sense, the experience becomes seared into memory as a mechanism of positive reinforcement, which could potentially encourage and promote an increased amount of future outbursts. Other individuals believe that catharsis is more of a tool for closure, as it allows people to release their feelings and then move on from them.
Anger and frustration are the brother and sister to aggression. Rage rooms can prevent a person from physically attacking another person by giving them a chance to break inanimate objects instead. This is a good thing. However, if the brain becomes conditioned to view these outbursts as reinforcing, it could potentially encourage more violence in the future. If the brain links rage rooms and physical outbursts with pleasure, it could end up prompting a person to visit rage rooms more often. Furthermore, if the person engages in angry outbursts more frequently, it could actually bring about more aggression. While this would be great for rage rooms from a monetary and business standpoint, it may not be so great for the rest of society.
On the other hand, is it just the opposite? Are rage rooms just conditioning people to channel their anger and frustration in a controlled environment instead of directing it at somebody’s face or towards their personal property? Is this actually helping to reduce uncontrolled aggression on an everyday basis in our communities?
There are no clear-cut answers to these questions at this point in time. Only time will tell about the impact that rage rooms are going to ultimately have on society. Despite all this, a valid point is that rage rooms are diverting people from using more peaceful and less destructive coping mechanisms, such as meditation, yoga, journaling, or running. These coping mechanisms could never prompt more aggression, which begs the question, why aren’t we spending more time and effort focusing on them?
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.