By now, people are beginning to receive 2023 “save the date” requests and invitations to their high school reunions. Summer and early fall are the peak seasons to hold these events.
Some people look forward to these reunions as opportunities to reconnect with former classmates and friends. Others would sooner have a root canal than attend a reunion. But most people are apprehensive.
“High school reunions create heightened anxiety in most of us,” said Luis Vega, a Cal State Bakersfield psychology professor. “We engage in subjective social comparisons, with endless dimensions — attractiveness, places where we live, job prestige, salaries, to name a few.”
“Social comparisons provide feedback on universal emotions, with fear one of them,” he said. “High school experiences, for most of us, impact our identity formation. Nonacceptance, being marginalized, not popular, or bullied, all can create trauma-inducing experiences, conditioning us to insecurities that cannot easily be shed.
“Who wants to relive old traumas, grievances and social insecurities? Because our identities in high school are so transformative, the anchors of that time are difficult to shake.”
Vega noted that even students who were popular in high school — high-achieving, or star students — may have appeared to have finished high school unscathed. But the pressures to fit in, be accepted or even admired were present — just hidden. These pressures may have manifested behavior that included drug use/abuse, bullying or, in a few cases, suicide ideation.
“Reunions bring back memories (reliving old times) that may no longer apply and which were identity-defining. This can be anxiety provoking,” Vega said. “Who we were yesterday is different from who we are today.”
In deciding whether to attend a reunion, Vega advised:
- Likely you had genuine friendships, people who accepted you for who you were at your core, not what you appeared to be — especially when you felt you had to prove yourself.
- Attend the reunion for who you are today, not who you were back then.
- Reunions are a second chance to show our humanity, to show gratitude to those who supported us, to apologize to those we aggrieved, to reinforce old bonds, to remain united on the positives of transformative experiences.
- Traumas don’t have to be relived, but rather accepted for what they are — memories and transformed learning experiences.
- Accept that most people change and that reunions are more about the present and the future, rather than the past.
- By attending reunions, we claim ownership, shared identities, camaraderies and the support systems we once had.
Vega’s final thoughts as we head into this reunion season:
“As true as it was then, it is true today, we never ceased being individuals, with idiosyncratic inclinations and tastes, enriching the tapestry of diversity of our high schools, and contributing a kaleidoscope of experiences that deserve to be valued, respected, then and now.
“Emphasize the individual differences of your former classmates and you will be surprised that the social reality of those days was just that, singular, and not reflective of the individuality of your peers.
“It is OK to rekindle, reframe and reacquaint with your high school classmates.”
Sorry, there are no recent results for popular commented articles.