How I Felt after Visiting a Rage Room

Written by: Joy Sullivan


Published on: April 4, 2024

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I’m a pretty gentle human. I’m good with toddlers and animals and old people. As a kid, I’d pry songbirds out of my cat’s mouth. I still cry when I break a wineglass, and I write poems people sometimes call “tender” on the internet. I’m soft and sweet and occasionally funny, and, apparently, I’m also full of rage.

Recently I visited a rage room. Normally the idea of smashing glass objects with a baseball bat wouldn’t appeal to me, but I was intrigued when I heard that the majority of rage room customers were women. I’m often not in touch with rage, but I’m well acquainted with her cousin, grief, who drools on my chest every morning like a toothless cat.

It’s 1 p.m. on a mild-mannered Wednesday, but my friend Sara and I are donning face shields, long-sleeve jumpsuits, and gloves. We sign a waiver, select a Lemonade-heavy Spotify playlist called Angry Rage Mix, and laugh nervously as we pick out our hammers.

I feel a little evil at first. I smash a small lamp, a tiny lamb figurine, an oversize glass mallard. I even take a baseball bat to the punching dummy who resembles a balding accountant. I hit him twice but have to stop because my heart starts to smart. I return to the glass bottles, the paisley dinner sets, the crystal vase. I smash. I smash again.

Rage rooms originated in Japan but soon popped up worldwide. After the pandemic, interest skyrocketed. And it’s true—the majority of participants are women. Unsurprisingly, rage rooms aren’t the first space aimed at providing women with an outlet to vent taboo emotions. Take the crying rooms in fancy Japanese hotels, or Tokyo’s pessimist café, where you can be visibly miserable in good company.

In rage rooms, you can have rage kinks. One hundred fifty bucks buys you a china hutch to smash. One hundred dollars gets you a grandfather clock, and for fifty dollars, you can shatter a giant antique mirror with a mallet. It’s my first time, so I order only a small bucket of glass objects. I smash a ceramic pitcher and with a sudden snap, my elusive rage arrives. Next come the memories: The frat boy who pinned me to the carpet in college. A professor who propositioned me after requesting a private reading of my poems. The man at the grad school party who cornered me in the kitchen, asked if I was wearing underwear, then groped me against the stove. The friend who told me afterward it must have just been a joke. Ten years later, I still don’t get the joke.

Within minutes, I’ve smashed through my bucket of breakables and upgraded to the “bundle bucket,” enthusiastically shelling out another 30 bucks.

Like many women raised in evangelical purity culture, I was conditioned to be soft, gentle, acquiescent. We’re told to use our inside voices and our good manners. We’re taught that “angry women” are scary, wrong, or unattractive, and so, as we age, we learn to suppress, repress, and disassociate from our rage. But anger helps us recognize when we’ve suffered an injustice. Rage becomes our protection and our power. And often, we hold on to anger because it is our only witness.

I think back over the times in my life when anger would have been a shield. How it would have moved me to action. In the most violating instances of my life, it wasn’t rage I felt. It was only confusion. A sense of smallness and helplessness. Because I didn’t know how to fight, I froze. I told myself good girls must accept the unacceptable.

For me, smashing things in the rage room isn’t about being destructive. It’s about remembering how to channel anger. It’s about using that anger to move out of harm and into productive action. It taught me that I don’t ultimately want to destroy, but I do need anger. I need to hold that holy hum in my body and listen.

Since the experience, I’ve begun to wonder whether my lifelong depression might simply be rage without an exit. The rage room gave me an open door. It helped me move rage out of my body so that now I can maybe stop punching my own heart.

After an hour, Sara says it’s the most fun she’s had all year.

As for me, I’m so tired, I feel clean. As if I just had the best sex of my life. It’s better than therapy or yoga or meditation. I drive home still feeling shards of glass under my shirt, in my armpits, beneath my bra, clinging to the back of my neck. Before I know it, I’m singing.

Joy Sullivan is the author of Instructions for Traveling West: Poems. Read her thoughts on the creative life in her Substack newsletter, Necessary Salt, and follow her at @joysullivanpoet.