Everyone might forget things from time to time—whether it’s where you put your keys, what time a meeting was starting or on which day a party was taking place.
Many people have used the term “selective memory” to refer, often critically, to someone who seemingly chooses only what they’d like to remember. However, an individual who genuinely experiences selective amnesia may forget certain significant events or milestones in their lives. These can include events and experiences such as skills, friendships, relationships, abilities or even prior traumatic experiences.
Selective memory can extend beyond typical forgetfulness and can be associated with other medical conditions. Read on to learn more about what selective memory is, what conditions it can be associated with and strategies that can help.
What Is Selective Memory?
Selective memory (also sometimes referred to as selective amnesia) can be clinically defined as “the ability to retrieve certain facts and events but not others.” There can be a variety of explanations for someone displaying selective memory. Left untreated, the condition does have a potential to affect an individual’s quality of life, interpersonal relationships or day-to-day functioning.
Potential Causes Of Selective Memory
Many scientists and psychologists have studied factors that can lead to the formation of selective memory. Recent findings found in an article published in Frontiers in Psychology noted that emotional influences can either enhance or impair learning and retention of new information—possibly bringing on selective memory.
Other possible causes can include:
Individuals who live with personality disorders or other similar ailments may be more susceptible to emotional highs and lows that can precede the formation of selective memory. An example of this can be bipolar disorder, which is generally associated with manic highs and depressive lows.
Another potential factor that can be involved in selective memory can come in the form of poor diet habits. The food that people consume can impact their lives in many ways. Therefore, it may come as no surprise to many that certain foods can have long-term impacts on an individual’s memory and affect their thinking capabilities.
Preservatives, processed foods and drinks, chemical additives and foods with high amounts of sugar have all been scientifically linked to direct neurological effects. For this reason (and many others), the consumption of healthy foods (fruits, fish, vegetables and poultry) is generally strongly encouraged over other options when possible.
People are scientifically suggested to have the power to repress and eventually forget certain memories. Intentionally repressing a memory for long enough can cause one to forget it.
While selective memory is generally regarded as a negative occurrence, there are certain instances where it can be helpful to one’s overall quality of life. An example of this can be seen in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other instances where painful events may do more harm than good. It is generally inadvisable to repress memories as a manner of dealing with challenges from the past, however.
Diseases, Disorders And Aging
The effects of aging can manifest in the form of memory discrepancies and changes. Selective memory in this context can be a common occurrence. Additionally, conditions can lead to selective memory and memory changes. Common memory disorders of this nature include, but are not limited to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amnesia, stress and dementia.
While aging can affect everyone differently, many find that a healthy lifestyle (including exercise, human interactions and a nutritious diet) can serve as a deterrent to the formation of memory ailments—such as those listed above.
A Clinical Analysis: How Can Selective Memory Appear?
Selective memory can be incredibly layered. Many of these variations can come in the form of amnesia or hypermnesia. These conditions can range in severity and manifestation. In its mildest capacity, amnesia can cause someone to have difficulty in remembering certain facts or pieces of information.
In more severe degrees, an individual who experiences amnesia may lose ownership of virtually all their memories. Extreme amnesia generally surpasses selective memory; while the latter might only pertain to certain memories. The former (at its most severe) can cause the person to lose touch with all their memories.
Another form of amnesia (and selective memory) can manifest in the form of forgetfulness across various time periods. Clinically known as lacunar amnesia, someone who has this ailment may subsequently lose the memory of seconds, hours or even days of a particular event. Sometimes lacunar amnesia can be referred to as a blackout—and it can be engendered by drugs, alcohol, trauma or other relevant stimuli.
Evocation amnesia can show similarities to lacunar amnesia as a condition. Instead of forgetting various periods within an event, this version of selective memory dysfunction can prompt the person living with it to lose recollection of the specific names of individuals or inanimate objects.
For instance, an evocative amnesiac might meet various people at events, yet subsequently, fail to remember their names. This can occur despite the possibility that the person may remember everything else about the people they encountered— other than their names.
Hypermnesia is the final variation of selective memory that is mentioned here. This variation of selective memory is considered by many to be the inverse of amnesia. Rather than the increasing lack of memory (amnesia), hypermnesia can occur when an individual might seem to remember information encountered all at once.
How Can Online Counseling Help Those Experiencing Selective Memory?
If you are not sure whether pursuing face-to-face therapy is right for you, or if such resources are not available in your area, online therapy can be another helpful option to consider.
Platforms such as BetterHelp can offer convenient options for contact and support, including phone calls, video conference calls and in-app messaging on your smart device. Users can attend these sessions without leaving the home or their secondary safe space on their own schedule—and can work with the same therapist over time.
Is Online Counseling Effective?
Researchers have found information that suggests that online therapy can offer comparable benefits to what many might find with in-person methods.
The result of a study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science suggests that computer-delivered memory training helped alleviate the symptoms of participants living with generalized anxiety disorders, cognitive biases and other related conditions.
It also found that patients undergoing behavioral therapy reportedly enjoyed online session homework, phone coaching and text messages, which are three key tools used in cognitive behavioral therapy. Patients self-reported improvements in their cognitive recall over several sessions in the linked study.
“Beth has been absolutely amazing! I was wary about the platform at first and doing so much work via messaging, but it feels easy with Beth. She remembers our conversations and checks in with me if I don’t say anything for a few days. She’s able to make observations about my life without taking sides or making me feel judged. I feel so fortunate to be working with her.”
“Amy makes great attempts to try and figure out how to best approach the clients needs for each session. She’s willing to listen if that’s what you need. She’s willing to ask questions if that’s what’s needed. She also gives great examples for your current needs. I love that she’s explicitly connects current reflections back to the goals that were. She’s a great listener, and she gives great advice."
Whatever the case, selective memory may not be anything to worry about unless it begins to impact how you function from day to day or harm your quality of life. Seeking support from an online therapist can help you discover the root of your selective memory and can help you to take steps to overcome it. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.
What Does It Mean To Have A Selective Memory?
People may use the term “selective memory” to describe someone who tends to remember only what they want to remember from a situation or pretend they have forgotten specific details. Having a selective memory is often a conscious decision, and it isn’t a mental health condition or disability. Contrarily, selective amnesia differs from selective memory and causes individuals to truly forget specific details of their lives while keeping parts of their memory intact.
What Causes Selective Memory?
Selective memory is most often a choice, whether it seems conscious or not. However, in rare circumstances, people may forget certain details of a traumatic event due to how traumatic memories are stored. Traumatic memories are often guarded through sensory information, such as sights, sounds, smells, sensations, or tastes. These memories are often suppressed because they are highly connected to the amygdala, the emotional part of the brain, instead of being correctly stored in the hippocampus like a standard memory.
In some cases, selective memory may be used as a defense mechanism. Someone may feign that they forgot an event and not take responsibility for what occurred. Others may pretend they don’t remember an event to avoid conflict or long conversations with another person about that event’s meaning.
What Is An Example Of Selective Memory?
An example of selective memory is someone going through a traumatic event like a loss in their family and forgetting the details of how that loss occurred. This process may occur because the traumatic memory is highly connected to the person’s emotions and sensory experiences. Instead of recalling the memory like a standard memory, it may seem to have “disappeared” until an emotion or sensorial experience brings it back up for them.
What Are The Symptoms Of Selective Memory?
There are no symptoms of selective memory because it is not a medical or mental health condition. However, selective amnesia, a condition, involves a few signs, including the following:
- Forgetting parts of a traumatic event
- Forgetting details of one’s life
- Severe memory loss, not caused by another medical condition
Amnesia can often be treated with support, reminders, and therapy. If the amnesia is due to a traumatic event, trauma-informed therapy may be the most helpful treatment.
Do People With ADHD Have Selective Memory?
A recent study looked at whether individuals with ADHD had selective memory. The study found that people with ADHD were less likely to have selective memory than people in the control group (without ADHD). People with ADHD may have detail-oriented minds. However, it can seem that their memory is selective because of distractibility, which may cause them to change subjects quickly or temporarily forget a detail they previously knew.
Is Selective Memory A Trauma Response?
In some cases, selective memory may be a trauma response. When the brain stores traumatic memories in the amygdala, they are more sensory and emotional than logical. For that reason, analytical details of an event can become clouded, and some people may find that they do not remember traumatic events unless they’re in an emotional or sensory state that reminds them of the event.
Is Selective Memory Part Of Dementia?
Dementia causes the gradual degeneration of the brain, which can cause memory challenges. Memory may be selective at times or seem impossible to access for some individuals living with dementia. Selective memory is not an official symptom of dementia but can be part of this condition.
Can You Be Diagnosed With Selective Memory?
You cannot be diagnosed with selective memory, as it is not a mental health or medical illness. However, you can be diagnosed with selective amnesia or dissociative amnesia, which are common conditions that arise due to severe traumatic events. There may be several opinions on what causes selective memory. However, this term is more commonly used in pop culture than in a medical setting.
What Is The Problem With Selective Memory?
When purposeful, selective memory can be harmful. If you know you remember a detail but are lying to others about remembering that detail to manipulate them or make them believe they are wrong about their recount of events, you might be partaking in “gaslighting,” an unhealthy and often abusive manipulation technique.
If selective memory is not a choice, it can still harm you, as it may be due to a traumatic event or difficulty processing a memory correctly. In these cases, you may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional to understand the root of this selective memory.
If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
Is Selective Memory A Good Thing?
Selective memory as a trauma response is initially a way for your body and mind to protect itself from the full extent of a traumatic event. This defense mechanism can be healthy at the moment. However, over time, it can cause significant challenges, such as post-traumatic stress and difficulty letting go.
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