Selective Memory, an Overview

Updated on January 26th, 2022

At a point in time, we often contact cases of selective memory, be it in a young person or an aging uncle; it can be frustrating sometimes trying to connect with someone who forgets crucial pieces of information about the time spent and memories shared. Here we will touch on the selective memory process, the symptoms, what causes the condition, and possible available treatments.

Selective memory


Memories are not clear cut; more often than not, many of us at one time or the other have struggled with what part of life events we wish to remember. To a certain extent, every individual has a degree of selective memory bias. Every person’s thoughts and personal perception are to some extent influenced by the kind of person they are, how they see the world, the circumstances surrounding an event, and their experiences.

What do we mean by selective memory?

Clinically, selective memory, also known as selective amnesia, is the ability to retrieve specific facts and events to exclude others. Generally, a person can remember certain information about a particular event, an occurrence, or life experience without remembering other information pieces. Sometimes, there is a degree of intentionality behind it. Some persons might choose only to recognize certain information about an event. Sometimes, selective memory can be incited by the brain as a defensive mechanism. While at other times, it could be triggered due to physical pain or a traumatic experience. A person who once suffered abuse from a lover might selectively choose not to remember the occurrence. So also, a child who has experienced continuous cases of abuse might decide not to place such traumatic experiences in detail. Selective memory is sometimes not all bad, but it is not the best long-term solution to coping with trauma.

Some people who suffer from selective memory disorder might tend to forget particular issues, people, or events that are too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness and that are posited to be organized according to emotional rather than temporal parameters.

Causes and Triggers

1. Overwhelming Stress or Trauma

People sometimes tend to forget events that caused them overwhelming pain and stress selectively. Occurrences like heartbreaks, abuse, war, discrimination do cause a great deal of trauma. Most times, people don’t want to remember events that stressed them out or caused them pain in other not to outlive such events over again.

2. Inherited

Research has shown that selective memory loss can sometimes be inherited. It has been medically proven that sometimes close relatives of someone who suffers or once suffered from selective amnesia tend to develop a particular memory disorder though its occurrence is rare.

3. Environmental Factor

The environment also happens to play a role in the development of selective memory disorder. Occurrences such as war, natural disasters sometimes leave trails of victims who would naturally prefer to forget their experiences during these occurrences.

4. Personality Disorder or Similar Ailments

A person who suffers from an imbalance of emotions or personality Disorder is more susceptible to experiencing dissociation due to intense emotional highs and lows, as in a patient diagnosed with being bipolar. A dissociation is an extreme form of selective memory where patients tend not to recollect specific events or tidbits from an occurrence.

5. Aging

The human brain, body, and body system are susceptible to changes. With age comes the realization that you might be losing your ability to recollect some events. Many instances of the selective disorder have been attributed to age.

Research Analysis

Selective memory disorder, according to research, is a rare occurrence; it affects about 1% of men and 2.6% of women in the general population. While the environment plays its role, research has linked many instances of selective memory to personality traits. Certain personalities are easily associated with selective amnesia; for example, a selfish person may manipulate certain people or circumstances by telling revised versions of an event while embellishing it with specific information to further his agenda. They may purposefully leave out certain information or details to cast themselves in a favorable light or paint a picture that isn’t accurate. Narcissists have an inflated sense of importance; hence, they want to force their opinions and ideas down people’s throats. As such, it is not uncommon to see them manipulating details about an occurrence in furtherance of a personal agenda. This form of selective memory has been said to be intentional rather than clinical.


The symptoms of selective memory include but are not limited to:

  1. The ability to learn new information is impaired in anterograde amnesia.
  2. The ability to remember past events and previously regular communication is impaired in retrograde amnesia.
  3. False memories may be either wholly invented or consist of real memories misplaced in time, in a phenomenon known as confabulation.
  4. Uncoordinated movements and tremors indicate neurological problems.
  5. Confusion or disorientation may occur.
  6. There may be problems with short-term memory, partial or total loss of memory.
  7. A person may be unable to recognize faces or locations.


One primary aim of treatment for selective memory loss is to ensure that the patient and the people around them are safe. And that the patient safely reconnects with activities around him and the environment. The most effective mode of treatments include but are not limited to:

  1. Psychotherapy
  2. Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  3. Family Therapy
  4. Clinical hypnosis
  5. Creative Therapy, among others

Final Thoughts

For most people with selective amnesia, memory eventually returns, sometimes slowly and sometimes suddenly, making the overall outlook very good. In some cases, however, the person can never fully recover their lost memories. People with selective memory usually respond well to treatment if they are adequately cared for. But this depends mainly on the support available to them, like support from family and friends, the patient’s personal life, and the kind of treatment being given.

Patients are often advised to seek therapy when suffering from a selective memory disorder. That is indeed one of the most effective ways to cope with selective memory. Treatment not only caters to the patient’s mind but the body and overall well-being as well. It is well to advise patients not to give up on themselves by resulting in alcohol or isolation to manage their situation; there is help available from both online and physical professionals. It is easier to consult a professional therapist than to nurse a family member suffering from selective memory alone at home, hoping for them to get better.

For Elizabeth, mental health is a personal story. She is an author who provides innovative, creative, and engaging content on topics such as stress management, emotional wellness, relationships, etc. She enjoys creating a useful content to empower people and uses personal experience to help others on their journey to recovery.

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