The Rashomon effect- the psychology of relationships

The Rashomon effect is defined as the way in which different people may describe the same observed event in very different ways. This may happen while all observers of the event believe that they are being completely honest.

We are all familiar with this phenomenon to some degree, yet we are often uncomfortable when confronted with the extent  to which our personal perception is subjective, a lens through which we view reality.

This term originated in a movie by Kurosawa, a renowned Japanese director. In the movie four people meet in the forest; a young samurai, his beautiful wife, a bandit, and a passer-by. The young samorai is killed. The four people come to testify in the trial that follows, including the ghost of the samurai.  Strangely enough, three of them plead responsibility for the murder.  The event appears very differently in the story that is told by each of the four participants. Each of them is convinced that he or she is telling the truth, and the events are shown through the protagonists eyes.   In the movie there is no resolution.

Unfortunately, this happens all too often in relationships. When People describe  events that have led to a crises in a relationship, they often give completely different accounts of these events. Often the people involved are convinced that the other person is not telling the truth.

I often come across this phenomenon in my practice. When a couple is in a crisis and are recounting the events that led to the crisis, it is critical to first accept that, as a rule,   no one in the room is lying. The next step is to  listen to each other carefully and try to understand what lens each person is using to view reality. Understanding the distortions that these lenses impose upon our perception, can provide us  clues on how to repair a relationships that is ailing.
It is often humbling to discover how subjective our perception is.