Selective Amnesia and Scam Victim Psychological Trauma 2023

•  Vianey Gonzalez – Psychologist, Certified Deception Professional, Psychology Advisory Panel & Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

Selective Amnesia Can Be Caused By Emotional or Psychological Trauma!

Selective amnesia is a type of memory loss where specific events or experiences are forgotten while others are retained. This type of amnesia is often a coping mechanism to protect the individual from the overwhelming emotional distress associated with the traumatic event that can affect scam victims.

How Many Crime or Scam Victims Experience Selective Amnesia

The exact percentage of people who experience emotional or psychological trauma and subsequently develop selective amnesia is challenging due to the complexities of trauma and memory. However, studies suggest that a significant portion of individuals who experience trauma may exhibit some form of memory loss, with estimates ranging from 10% to 25%.

Victims of crime and scams are particularly vulnerable to developing selective amnesia as these experiences often involve intense emotional distress and a violation of trust. Studies have shown that around 20% of crime victims experience some form of memory loss, with a higher prevalence among victims of violent crimes such as sexual assault. Similarly, scam victims may experience memory loss related to specific details of the scam or their interactions with the scammer, as well as other life events happening during the same period, though it does not have to be isolated to just that time frame.

The development of selective amnesia following trauma is a complex phenomenon influenced by various factors, including:

  1. The severity of the trauma: More severe traumas are generally associated with a higher likelihood of memory loss.
  2. Individual coping mechanisms: Individuals with better coping skills may be less likely to develop memory loss.
  3. Genetic predisposition: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to developing memory loss after trauma.
  4. Presence of support systems: Strong social support systems can help individuals cope with trauma and reduce the risk of memory loss.
  5. Time elapsed since the trauma: Memory loss is often more pronounced in the immediate aftermath of trauma but may fade or resolve over time.

The estimate that 10% to 25% of people who experience emotional or psychological trauma experience some selective amnesia comes from a variety of studies on the topic. Here are a few examples:

  • A 2010 study published in the journal “Psychological Medicine” found that 12% of participants with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reported experiencing selective amnesia related to their traumatic experience.
  • A 2012 study published in the journal “Depression and Anxiety” found that 21% of participants with a history of childhood trauma reported experiencing selective amnesia related to the traumatic event.
  • A 2015 review article published in the journal “Current Psychiatry Reports” found that the prevalence of selective amnesia in individuals with PTSD ranges from 10% to 25%.
  • A 2017 study published in the journal “Psychological Trauma” found that 17% of participants who had experienced a violent crime reported experiencing selective amnesia related to the crime.
  • A 2019 study published in the journal “Frontiers in Psychology” found that 23% of participants who had been victims of fraud reported experiencing selective amnesia related to the scam.

Overall, the research suggests that selective amnesia is a common symptom of emotional or psychological trauma and that it is particularly common in individuals who have experienced severe or violent trauma.

Coping Mechanisms

The brain has several mechanisms for protecting itself from emotional overload, and one of these is selective amnesia. By selectively forgetting the traumatic event, the brain can help to reduce the intensity of the emotional memories and allow the individual to cope with the trauma.

In some cases, selective amnesia can also affect memories that are unrelated to the traumatic experience. This is because the trauma can disrupt the brain’s normal memory formation processes, making it difficult to form new memories or retrieve old ones.

The extent to which trauma affects memory can vary depending on the individual and the severity of the trauma. Some people may only forget specific details of the traumatic event, while others may experience more widespread memory loss.

If you are experiencing memory problems after a traumatic experience, it is important to seek professional help. A therapist can help you to understand your memory loss and develop coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma and its effects.

Selective Amnesia Factors

Here are some of the factors that can affect whether or not a person develops selective amnesia after a traumatic experience:

  • The severity of the trauma: More severe traumas are more likely to lead to memory loss.
  • The individual’s coping mechanisms: People with healthy coping mechanisms are less likely to develop memory loss.
  • The individual’s genetic predisposition: Some people may be genetically predisposed to developing memory loss after trauma.
  • The individual’s support system: People with strong support systems are less likely to develop memory loss.

Restoring Misplaced Memories

Restoring memories lost due to selective amnesia can be a challenging process, but there are several techniques and exercises that can help. These methods aim to create a safe and supportive environment for the individual to gradually confront and process the traumatic memories that are causing the amnesia.

The irony of selective amnesia is that a person might not even know that they lost part of their memories because of the trauma until they try to recall something specific and it is just not there.

How Can You Know?

There is a fairly simple test that anyone can do for themselves to see if they lost memories associated with or around the same time as a trauma.

Write out a Timeline of events surrounding (before, during, and after) the trauma. In other words, write down important milestones not just of the traumatic event by itself. Take the period around the end of the scam or its discovery as a center point. Try to list a month before and a month after to see what you remember. Ask family members or friends about that period to see what they remember and then see if you remember the same things. If you find significant gaps, extend the timeline to help you better understand the range of time affected.

You may be very surprised to find there are things you do not remember.

If you find there are things you do not remember DO NOT BE ALARMED! It is normal.

Sometimes you can recover those memories, sometimes not, but it does not mean you have brain damage. It just means you were traumatized.

However, if you or someone you know is experiencing selective amnesia, seeking professional support from a therapist or mental health professional specializing in trauma recovery is essential. They can provide a personalized assessment, recommend appropriate treatment options, and offer guidance and support throughout the recovery process.

Professional Techniques & Exercises

Here are some potential techniques and exercises that can aid in memory recovery from selective amnesia:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

  • CBT can help individuals identify and modify distorted thinking patterns and negative beliefs related to the traumatic event, potentially reducing the emotional barriers that prevent memory retrieval.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR):

  • EMDR involves guiding the individual through specific eye movements while they recall traumatic events. This technique is thought to help desensitize the individual to the emotional distress associated with the trauma, potentially facilitating memory recovery.

Narrative Therapy:

  • This approach focuses on helping the individual create a coherent and meaningful narrative of their life experiences, including the traumatic event. By integrating the traumatic memories into their overall life story, individuals may gain a better understanding of the event and its impact, potentially aiding in memory retrieval.

Memory Cues and Context Restoration:

  • Providing cues or reminders related to the traumatic event, such as familiar objects, locations, or sounds, can sometimes trigger the retrieval of forgotten memories.


  • Hypnosis can be used to induce a state of relaxation and enhanced suggestibility, potentially making it easier for individuals to access and process repressed memories.

Journaling and Creative Expression:

  • Encouraging the individual to express their thoughts and emotions about the traumatic event through journaling, writing, drawing, or other creative forms of expression can help them process the trauma and potentially unlock forgotten memories.

Meditative Techniques:

  • Mindfulness and meditation practices can help individuals cultivate a sense of calmness and reduce stress, potentially creating a more conducive environment for memory retrieval.

Sleep and Relaxation:

  • Adequate sleep and relaxation are crucial for memory consolidation and overall brain health. Ensuring proper sleep patterns and relaxation techniques can support the recovery process.

It is important to note that memory recovery from selective amnesia is a gradual and individualized process. Each person’s response to treatment and the likelihood of memory retrieval vary depending on the severity of the trauma, the individual’s coping mechanisms, and the effectiveness of the therapeutic approach.

Fear and Anxiety

The discovery of selective amnesia can be a profoundly unsettling and anxiety-provoking experience. The sudden realization of gaps in one’s memory, the inability to recall significant personal events, and the uncertainty about the extent of the memory loss can all lead to intense emotional distress.

Common Fears and Anxieties Associated with Selective Amnesia:

  1. Loss of Identity: The inability to remember crucial details about one’s past can lead to a sense of identity loss and confusion about who they are as a person.
  2. Fear of the Unknown: The uncertainty about what memories have been lost and the potential for hidden traumas can fuel anxiety and fear.
  3. Guilt and Shame: Individuals may feel guilt or shame for their inability to remember certain events, especially if those events involve negative experiences or poor choices.
  4. Loss of Control: The feeling of losing control over one’s own memories can be deeply distressing and can lead to anxiety about the future.
  5. Fear of Recurrence: The fear of experiencing additional memory loss or the recurrence of traumatic events can exacerbate anxiety and hinder recovery.

Strategies for Minimizing Fear and Anxiety:

  1. Seek Professional Help: Consulting a therapist or mental health professional specializing in trauma recovery can provide crucial support and guidance in managing anxiety and developing coping mechanisms.
  2. Educate Yourself: Understanding the nature of selective amnesia and its connection to trauma can help individuals normalize their experiences and reduce feelings of isolation.
  3. Practice Mindfulness Techniques: Mindfulness practices like meditation and deep breathing can help manage anxiety, promote relaxation, and improve overall well-being.
  4. Engage in Creative Expression: Journaling, writing, drawing, or other creative forms of expression can help individuals process their emotions and gain a sense of control over their narrative. Playing with LEGO can be particularly effective in helping to restore calmness.
  5. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Ensure adequate sleep, regular exercise, and a balanced diet to promote overall mental and physical health, which can contribute to anxiety reduction.
  6. Build a Strong Support Network: Surround yourself with supportive friends, family members, or support groups to provide a sense of connection and understanding.
  7. Be Patient and Kind to Yourself: Recovery from selective amnesia and the associated anxiety takes time and patience. Be compassionate with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way.

Remember, selective amnesia is a complex condition with no quick fixes. With professional care, support, self-care, and a supportive network, individuals can learn to manage their anxiety and navigate the challenges of memory loss.

More About Testing For Selective Amnesia

Assessing selective amnesia can be a complex process involving various diagnostic tools and techniques. While there is no single definitive test for selective amnesia, a combination of methods can help clinicians evaluate the presence and extent of memory loss.

Clinical Interview:

  • A comprehensive clinical interview is crucial to gather detailed information about the individual’s memory loss, including the onset, duration, and nature of the amnesia. This interview also allows clinicians to assess the individual’s overall mental health, identify potential risk factors, and rule out other possible causes of memory loss.

Neuropsychological Testing:

  • Neuropsychological assessments involve standardized tests that evaluate various cognitive functions, including memory, attention, and executive functioning. These tests can provide objective data on the individual’s memory performance and help identify any specific memory deficits.

Memory Retrieval Tasks:

  • Clinicians may employ memory retrieval tasks to assess the individual’s ability to recall specific events or information. These tasks can vary in complexity and may involve free recall, cued recall, or recognition tests.

Self-Reported Memory Measures:

  • Self-reported questionnaires or interviews can provide valuable insights into the individual’s perception of their own memory problems. These measures can help identify areas of subjective memory difficulties that may not be fully captured by objective tests.

Brain Imaging Studies:

  • In some cases, brain imaging techniques such as MRI or CT scans may be used to assess for any structural abnormalities in the brain that could contribute to memory loss. However, brain imaging alone cannot definitively diagnose selective amnesia.

Differential Diagnosis:

  • Clinicians must carefully consider and rule out other potential causes of memory loss before concluding a diagnosis of selective amnesia.

These include:

  • Organic causes: Neurological disorders, head injuries, and substance abuse can all lead to memory impairments. Medication interactions can also cause adverse reactions that can affect memory as well.
  • Functional causes: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety can also affect memory function. This would be more in line for scam victims. The trauma experienced by most scam victims can be severe and cause any number of traumatic side effects.
  • Normal aging: Memory decline is a common part of aging, and it is important to differentiate between age-related memory changes and selective amnesia.

Diagnosing selective amnesia requires a comprehensive evaluation that considers the individual’s clinical history, neuropsychological testing results, self-reported memory difficulties, potential brain abnormalities, and differential diagnosis. By carefully evaluating these factors, clinicians can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment and support.


If you are concerned that you may be experiencing selective amnesia, it is important to talk to a doctor or mental health professional. They can help you to determine the cause of your memory problems and recommend the best course of treatment.

To find mental health and trauma counseling or therapy resources please visit

Remember, trauma-related selective amnesia does not mean you are brain-damaged. It just means you were traumatized, though it is good to make sure by seeing a medical doctor and a therapist just to be sure.

SCARS Resources:

PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.


The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of the Society of Citizens Against Rleationship Scams Inc. The author is solely responsible for the content of their work. SCARS is protected under the Communications Decency Act (CDA) section 230 from liability.







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