Anger and What to Do About It: It’s Not Simple

Our Anger

Among the many demonstrations of our current state is that we are angry and we behave badly in small and larger ways. From road rage to plane rage to store rage to home rage, we are lashing out. And we are dysregulating. Just ask any educator how his/her students are doing and the behaviors they are seeing in classrooms. And the effect is not only on children; it is on adults too.

This was all captured ably in an article appearing today in the NYTimes.

Houses of Rage and Beyond

There is one close to me (well, 90 minutes) and I plan to try it out. My friend’s children just went there. They had a blast.

But these places worry me. To contextualize a bit before sharing my concerns, let me be clear. Recognizing anger is critically important. We need to identify the feeling and then we need to understand what is causing it to manifest. And, we need to find ways to process it and deal with it and regulate it. This isn’t easy. It isn’t fast. It isn’t often conscious. But, anger will not wane if we do not own it and deal with it — often with help.

So Houses of Rage (my collective term for these places) are noted for being places to go to address anger. For links to some of them, lest you think I am making this up, here you go:

But, here is what worries me. Start with this. Would you consider putting a House of Rage within a school? If not, what not? Would you consider putting it in a workplace? If not, why not? Would you consider putting it in a hospital? If not, why not? Would you consider putting it in an airport? If not, why not? Would you consider it as a birthday party event? A business bonding event? A staff development activity?

Yes, there are situations where a House of Rage can be beneficial and fun even. It can let one’s pent up energy out. And the idea is appealing, especially for those who don’t exhibit anger through physical acts. For those of us inhibited by social norms, we get to do what we can’t do elsewhere: make a real mess.

And we do other activities to let out anger: exercise, punching bags, shouting on hillsides. We arrange activities to allow people to let off stream. Amusement parks with roller coasters do that. So does bungy jumping.

That said, here is what worries me.

  1. We may be able to commercialize and earn money from the anger of others. We might even see ourselves as providing a service. But anger isn’t funny business; it is a deep emotion that needs to be processed. And a session bashing things for 15 minutes or 45 minutes will not quell anger long term. It may help for a short time but it is far from a solution of lasting value.
  2. Next, psychologically speaking, we can’t kill anger with anger. If we want to re-regulate, no amount of smashing will do that. It will not enable us to develop the skills to prevent and then address dysregulation. Now, this is not to say that there are no ways to act out anger. One can throw balls into walls or create splash art on an open wall. What is true, though, is that bashing bottles in a padded room may let anger out but it doesn’t prevent future anger or an understanding of current anger.
  3. Add to the above the following. Is the way to address anger by doing it? If that is so, why wouldn’t people see these Houses of Rage as locations where it is ok to destroy things and if it works there, why not try it elsewhere — say at home or in school. If it feels so good to smash, why not smash every chance we get? Couldn’t we be messaging badly? Anger gets settled by violence.
  4. Think about boxing in a ring with an instructor. Or think about Martial Arts, also with an instructor. These activities do involve violence but they are controlled; there are other people involved and there are ways to do it well. We can be taught to channel anger into healthy activities with the help of others. Houses of Rage are not that. They are pay to destroy places. Boxing rings and Martial Arts aren’t destroy places; they are places to learn the power of one’s mind and body.
  5. At one point in my thinking, I thought about the idea of putting a therapist into a House of Rage. You rage on and then chat with a therapist. Bad idea. First, the therapist would likely not have the time to help everyone. And, not everyone wants therapy. And, House of Rage is for fun not for working on one’s internal demons. Re-read this paragraph.
  6. I appreciate that we are seeing anger everywhere. And, wouldn’t it be amazing if a House of Rage made available to all became the solution? But the truth is that our anger will not be cured by smashing. Yes, smashing in a padded room is better than hitting a child or a spouse. But, I don’t think these Houses of Rage will prevent domestic abuse and child abuse. There are people to beat others and throw things regardless of opportunities to use healthy outlet. So, my point is that a temporary solution masks the deeper issues and disables us from recognizing that there ARE strategies that work to diffuse anger. Paying $50 to smash a car isn’t it.

Now What?

Ponder the two year old tantrum. Is the way to address it by having the parent/caregiver have a tantrum too? Is it addressed by giving a child more things to throw and more people to hit? In my experience, a tantrum is best addressed by initially helping the child realize they are out of control and upset. Saying things to a child like “I see you are mad. Can I help you?” is a good start. Locking the child in a room or punishing them isn’t teaching re-regulation. Have patience, keep one’s voice calm, offer alternatives, give space. Recognize the triggers.

Now, when I wrote a piece about ways to reregulate passengers on a flight, I was met with comments like: OMG, how dangerous. Better to land the plane. I think that isn’t right. There is risk in landing a plane. There is risk with someone being dyregulated and then tied to a chair or duct taped to a seat. Sure, in urgent situations, landing may be necessary. But, what is wrong with trying re-regulation strategies?

Bottom line: we need to start by owning the anger that exists now writ large. We need to own our own anger and recognize it in others. We need to see that it is common, retriggered by earlier events and tough psychologically. This is true whether you are 2 or 20 or 40 or 70. And, assume too that mental illness and even physical illness can make all this worse and make solutions harder to find.

Once we understand what is happening, then we can start the process of dealing with anger — in the near and longer term. It starts to be sure with getting in a place mentally where one is open to understanding the causes of one’s anger. They may be superficial or they could be profound. But, getting to the root cause of anger is key.

Then, once we know anger’s cause or causes, we can start to find strategies to ameliorate it. And there are plenty of strategies, none of which work for all. And, we need to be sensitive to age and culture and context and gender and lived experience. Our strategies are not universally good given the heterogeneity of humankind.

Of this I am sure: if you want a long term resolution of the anger that abounds in our nation, Houses of Rage are not the answer. They may provide temporary relief like a drug or alcohol can. But they are not a place to resolve anger.

Think about all of this as if we were dealing with a cold. If you blow your nose once, that does not get rid of the cold. It clears one’s nose (or not) for a short time. Dealing with a cold takes times and patience and stages…..and so it is with anger.

My Planned Visit

There are lots of things we do for fun. We sky dive. We ski down steep slopes. We ice skate on thin blades over ice. We race cars or motorcycles. We wrestle others in tournaments. We play football and rugby. There are risks in all of these activities and many others.

But, if the goal is to assuage and manage anger, Houses of Rage are not the spot. At least until I visit, that is my conclusion. If I find it to be a hugely transformative psychological experience, I will of course share that.

In the meanwhile, at as enter 2023, there are not enough Houses of Rage for all the world’s angry people — even assuming they work to deal with anger. Instead, let’s try helping each other understand our anger and our shared concerns about our world and its changes. And, if we own anger, we are better able to deal with this powerful emotion that is omnipresent.

Instead of Houses of Rage, perhaps we need Houses of Calm — where we can help each other re-regulate. Problem: there isn’t a commercial venture in that is there? Well, perhaps wellness spas and the like for the wealthy. Perhaps peace places for all. Query: if we can’t commercialize it, will there be uptake. Just asking.



Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor

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Karen Gross

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor