Donna Alexander grew up on the South Side of Chicago and had plenty of experience with relationships characterized by violence and domestic abuse.
From the age of 14, she was a strong advocate for victims of such violence.
It’s one of the reasons she became a pioneer in an industry booming around the world and throughout the U.S. – “rage rooms” that allow customers to smash things to smithereens in hopes of relieving stress, anxiety and, of course, anger and the desire to break stuff.
After moving to Dallas, she opened “The Anger Room,” a 1,000-square-foot warehouse cluttered with furniture, computers, printers, glasses, bottles and dishes – all for one purpose, bashing and trashing.
“Donna’s thing was, instead of hurting people, why not let it out on objects so a life isn’t lost, to keep people out of jail?” explained her sister, Lauren Armour. “A therapeutic way to get the anger from inside of them and help to relieve stress.”
Tragically and ironically, however, her ex-boyfriend, Nathaniel Mitchell, 34, faces trial for breaking into her home in the middle of the night and beating the 36-year-old mother of two to death Sept. 21.
With the popularity of “rage rooms” exploding, the case of Donna Alexander and warnings from anger counselors are raising questions about whether such businesses do more harm than good.
Psychology Today warns that “blowing off steam” is an inaccurate metaphor. Venting through aggression it says just trains the mind to convert anxiety into aggression. An Ohio State University professor, Brad Bushman, has also published scores of articles in peer-reviewed publications on how such expression tends to be more a rehearsal than a release.
One thing is certain. They are making money across the states and around the world.
Also known as “smash rooms” and “anger rooms,” the first rage room opened in Japan in 2008. Since then, they have spread worldwide with hundreds throughout America’s 50 states. More are opening every month – suggesting tensions are rising across the planet.
What goes on inside is pretty simple: It’s a place where paying customers come to legally throw plates across a room, take a sledgehammer to a television or smack a framed photo of your ex with a Louisville Slugger.
Participants swear it’s not only fun, but cheap. Bring your own breakables to the Glen Burnie facility and you can pay as little as $15 for a smash-a-thon. Some rage rooms allow you to design a set to your spleen’s desire – maybe an office motif or perhaps a schoolroom.
Maxwell Luthy, director of trends and insights for TrendWatching, says there is dual appeal in rage rooms because they are experiential and leave customers with a memory rather than a product they will eventually smash by accident or on purpose. He also says people are freaked out by stress over daily life as well as fears of climate catastrophe and politics more generally.
But do they really help manage anger? Mental-health professionals doubt that rage rooms are an effective way. Scott Bea, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, said rage rooms can be fun, but they should not substitute communication or seeking help.
“It’s not particularly therapeutic for people who have anger problems,” Scott said. “Just because they throw something doesn’t mean they aren’t going to throw something again in the future.”
In fact, other therapists suggest customers may be practicing acting out on violent behavior and setting themselves up for patterns of release that could spill over to the real world of uncontrolled environments.
Most rage rooms provide the protective gear to keep you from giving yourself a concussion or batting your own eye out in a freak ricochet action. Most businesses require a full-body suit, gloves, helmet and face mask. Customers also sign their legal-rights claims away.
Most rage rooms limit customers to the use of baseball bats, sledge hammers and golf clubs. But Axe Monkeys, which has a smash therapy room also boasts North America’s premiere axe-throwing facility, featuring 23 indoor lanes where you can learn to throw an ax like a pro.
At the of Chicago Rage Room, the establishment offers up 3-D printed busts of President Donald Trump for the smashing price of $8.
But things are more sophisticated in Dallas.
For just $25 at the rage they can get a Donald Trump mannequin to smash. But for $500, the owner will create a replica of the Oval Office with a Trump mannequin sitting at the desk.