Guest Lecture

The meaning of identity in youth empowerment

Trauma, Individual and Large-Group Identity Crises
Prof. Vamık D. Volkan, M. D.


Presentation at the Hermann-Gmeiner-Academy

on the 16 April 2018 Prof. Vamık D. Volkan, M. D

Photo: ©  Prof. Vamik D. Volkan

Who is Vamik D. Volkan? His is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. Since 1980 he has visited many countries traumatized by wars or war-like situations and other massive traumas and met many children and young persons at such locations like Cyprus, Tunisia - Palestinian orphans -, Estonia, Republic of Georgia, South Ossetia and Kuwait.


His point of departure: A psychoanalytic developmental findings on Identity formation in children; the role of large group identity in child development and human relationships. In working with children and youths, special attention has to be given to the question of identity. Identity is of many types. But the two forms affecting human psychological dispositions the most are: Individual and large group identities. What they are, how they reinforce each other and how they influence human life and interactions should be given proper attention, especially when working with children without parental care as well as with victims of war and social conflicts.
The meaning of Identity and its two major forms: Individual and Large Group Identity.

He presents models and metaphors describing the function of Identity in human life. They are: the “tent model” and the “breeding metaphor”. With these, he illustrates how human beings become conscious of the functioning of their large group identity in them.

The formation processes of Large Group Identity in childhood.  Relating to children in external care, he emphasizes on the importance of being conscious of the processes of their Identity formation.

He illustrates this with 5 models:

  • Psychobiological potential for “we-ness”
  • Separation-Individuation;
  • Identification
  • Depositing
  • Suitable targets of externalization

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short summary (PDF)
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Presentation at the Hermann-Gmeiner-Academy on the 16 April 2018