There is something undeniably satisfying about witnessing a demolition — a house of cards toppling, the leveling of a fire-ravaged edifice, or even watching an action movie. It’s even better when you’re the person doing the demolishing (think: popping bubble wrap), so it was only a matter of time before someone commodified this feeling.
“The concept of smashing stuff in a commercial way goes back to old carnivals, where they would have a car and [ask visitors to] pay a few bucks to hit it once or twice,” says Peter Wolf, the co-founder of Rage Ground in Los Angeles. His space requires customers to book a time online, select the items they wish to destroy, and arrive 10 minutes before their appointment for a short orientation. Clients must wear closed-toe shoes and sign a waiver before suiting up. Then, you’re directed to a room, which is pre-set with the items you’ll get to break. There are very few house rules, but Wolf asks that you don’t hit the walls or throw things through the ceiling, “which has actually happened.”
It’s a very trust-based activity when you’re going in there with multiple people. Everyone needs to be responsible and act like adults
Because he purchases the breakable items from liquidation wholesalers and e-waste centers, Wolf’s price points range from $60 to $390. The most expensive package allows for you and seven friends to ravage two rooms. When I ask what types of groups book his space (a New York Times piece by Penelope Green cited couples buying out New York’s The Wrecking Club on Valentine’s Day), Wolf explains that Rage Ground plays host to several corporate events — because nothing says “team-bonding” like watching your coworkers smash a laptop with a sledgehammer. “It’s a very trust-based activity when you’re going in there with multiple people. Everyone needs to be responsible and act like adults. That’s why people sign waivers,” he explains. Because yes, there can be up to eight people with metal bats with the express purpose of destroying things. What could possibly go wrong?
Rage or anger rooms didn’t exist until about 20 years ago, when Wolf says they popped up in parts of Asia. The Anger Room in Dallas, TX, was an early adopter in the United States; it opened in 2011 and closed within the last year. These days, it seems there’s at least one of these demolition sites in every major city, and they’ve started opening in the suburbs too, with names such as “Smash Therapy,” located in upstate New York, and The Break Room in Toronto.
So, what about these smashing centers are actually self-care? Are they a form of therapy? Can they help you relieve tension?
“The idea of using a padded bat or hitting something when you feel stressed or angry is based on the theory of catharsis, which essentially is the theory that venting your anger can bring about a release of that anger,” says E. Blake Zakarin, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medical Psychology in Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. While this might make sense in theory, she says, “there’s no evidence to support that expressing stress or anger aggressively or physically is super-helpful to you.” In fact, some psychologists, like Kevin Bennett at Psychology Today, believe that rage rooms can exacerbate stress and rage in some people. Clinical psychologist Scott Bea told the Cleveland Clinic that rage rooms might reinforce negative ways of coping with anger.
“It has actually been shown that physically acting on aggression can make a connection for people between being angry and acting aggressively,” Dr. Zakarin says. “Some people might experience a physiological decrease in arousal in the moment, while others won’t, but regardless, even if you do feel that reduction, it’s not the most helpful for you because it reinforces this is how you get [stress] out… In fact, that physical aggression can sometimes increase anger and aggression.”
Sometimes, during traditional therapy, a therapist might hand a patient a padded bat and direct them to use it to vent their anger on, say, a couch. But Dr. Zakarin disagrees with this approach, explaining that, “evidence-based research suggests that using a padded bat isn’t the most effective way to cope with anger or stress.” More constructive ways of coping long-term might be creating art, meditating, or exercising, because all three have been clinically-proven to decrease cortisol levels. Another alternative is cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches patients to understand why they’re so stressed in order to address the underlying issue head-on.
It’s really about providing a safe space so you can come in when you feel like you need to and get it all out of your system without harming anyone and breaking your own stuff
“Yes, in the moment, [venting] can sometimes reduce a physiological arousal, but only in certain situations,” Dr. Zakarin says. In other words, some people might feel better after going to an anger room, but they’re not recommended by most medical professionals as an appropriate way to cope with stress, anger, or anxiety issues. It might be more apt to call anger rooms a form of entertainment — period — rather than self-care. But, like most things in the wellness industry, it’s up to you whether you find them helpful or not.
Sophie Haigney at Vox wrote that she liked the “sweaty, wild relief of smashing stuff” and to her own surprise, paid an extra $20 for another set of plates to turn into “fireworks of broken glass.”
“It’s really about providing a safe space so you can come in when you feel like you need to and get it all out of your system without harming anyone and breaking your own stuff,” Wolf says. “And then we clean it up for you.”