You listen to a new song that you like and make your sibling, partner or best friend hear it, often against their will.
You watch a brilliant movie or a TV show and go about recommending it to everyone.
You read a chilling novel and swear to your friends that they’d be thrilled if they check it out.
Why do we do this? Why do we go about like madmen recommending our favourite stuff to others?
The first reason that flashes across the mind is, “Well, because it is good stuff. We recommend what we find worthwhile to recommend.”
This is doubtless one of the strongest reasons why we recommend our favourite stuff to others. When we share good stuff with others and they too feel good about it, our good feelings are multiplied.
But there’s more to the story. Besides sharing good stuff simply because it’s good, there are other psychological drives that motivate this sort of behaviour…
Boosting the ego
Boosting one’s ego and self-worth is a core human need. One of the most common ways this need is satisfied is by identifying with worthwhile things.
We, humans, tend to identify with what we like (be it a celebrity, a politician, a movie, a song, a sports team, a car, anything). Therefore, when we recommend our favourite stuff to others we’re indirectly telling them, “This is who I am.”
For example, if you like the rock band Black Sabbath, “A Black Sabbath fan” now becomes a part of your identity and self-concept. You see yourself as a Black Sabbath fan and since they’re a great band, you’re indirectly sending the message that you’re great.
Our ego is nothing more than a collection of our various identities. People boost their ego is by projecting their most valued identities to the world. So if you’re ‘a proud Black Sabbath fan’ then this is the identity that you’ll project to the world because this identification and association with a great band work to raise your self-worth.
All of this isn’t just limited to bands, movies, songs, and celebrities. People also identify with ideas and belief systems. This is one reason why there are so many ‘isms’ in the world, the ‘grand’ ideas that people like to identify and associate with to boost their ego.
Seeking validation for beliefs
When we’ve formed an identity that boosts our self-worth, the next important step is to nourish our new identity, to make it thrive and to prevent it from dying out. Because if it dies, we lose a part of our self-worth. If it thrives, our self-worth thrives.
Say you like a Black Sabbath song and recommend it to your friends. You’re not just recommending a good song to your friends, no. You’re indirectly telling them, “Look, how great I am. I like Black Sabbath. I want you to like it too so that I can convince my mind that I’m indeed great.”
Remember the mind gets programmed by repetition and the more proofs we collect for a belief the more that belief is held strongly by the mind.
So, if more and more people like your favourite song, the stronger your “Black Sabbath is great. I’m a fan so I’m great too” belief becomes.
No wonder you get disappointed and even angry at times if people don’t share your tastes. They’re not just rejecting a song but they’re rejecting a part of you. Every time someone rejects something that you recommend, a little lump of self-worth falls off your ego.
The desire to validate our beliefs is so strong that we tend to get irrational and forget that people have different tastes and inclinations. Anyone who doesn’t share our tastes is a fool. Anyone who prefers The Rolling Stones over Black Sabbath should be condemned to hell. A frightened mind floundering to maintain its belief.
When you subscribe to an idea, to an ‘ism’, you’ll find yourself continually scanning the world to support your ‘ism’. You’ll read articles, watch videos and talk to people that confirm your world-view. You may also find yourself recommending these to others vehemently.
In sum, here’s the pattern that is usually followed when one subscribes to an ism…You inherit from your society or come across an idea that seems worthwhile to identify or associate with, an idea that boosts your self-worth in some way.
Now you need to water this new identity, this new belief so that it thrives because it performs the all-important function of raising your self-worth. The greater the number of people who agree with you, the stronger your belief and the higher your self-worth.
There’s nothing inappropriate about trying to raise one’s self-esteem by identifying with good tangible and intangible stuff. It’s how the mind works.
However, in some circumstances, such tendencies can promote conflict and make us behave irrationally. So it’s always a good idea to understand why we do what we do. This enables us to be more rational in our dealings and reduce conflict in our lives.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve written 280+ articles and published one book about human behavior on this blog that has garnered over 3 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.