“The egoic mind is completely conditioned by the past. Its conditioning Is twofold: It consists of content and structure.
In the case of a child who cries in deep suffering because his toy has been taken away, the toy represents content. It is interchangeable with any other content, any other toy or object. The content you identify with is conditioned by your environment, your upbringing, and surrounding culture. Whether the child is rich or poor, whether the toy is a piece of wood shaped like an animal or a sophisticated electronic gadget makes no difference as far as the suffering caused by its loss is concerned. The reason why such acute suffering occurs is concealed in the word “my,” and it is structural. The unconscious compulsion to enhance one’s identity through association with an object is built into the very structure of the egoic mind.
One of the most basic mind structures through which the ego comes into existence is identification. The word “identification” is derived from the Latin word idem, meaning “same” and facere, which means “to make.” So when I identify with something, I “make it the same.” The same as what? The same as I. I endow it with a sense of self, and so it becomes part of my “identity.” One of the most basic levels of identification is with things: My toy later becomes my car, my house, my clothes, and so on. I try to find myself in things but never quite make it and end up losing myself in them. That is the fate of the ego.
The people in the advertising industry know very well that in order to sell things that people don’t really need, they must convince them that those things will add something to how they see themselves or are seen by others; in other words, add something to their sense of self. They do this, for example, by telling you that you will stand out from the crowd by using this product and so by implication be more fully yourself. Or they may create an association in your mind between the product and a famous person, or a youthful, attractive, or happylooking person. Even pictures of old or deceased celebrities in their prime work well for that purpose. The unspoken assumption is that by buying this product, through some magical act of appropriation, you become like them, or rather the surface image of them. And so in many cases you are not buying a product but an “identity enhancer.” Designer labels are primarily collective identities that you buy into. They are expensive and therefore “exclusive.” If everybody could buy them, they would lose their psychological value and all you would be left with would be their material value, which likely amounts to a fraction of what you paid.
What kind of things you identify with will vary from person to person according to age, gender, income, social class, fashion, the surrounding culture, and so on. What you identify with is all to do with content; whereas, the unconscious compulsion to identify is structural. It is one of the most basic ways in which the egoic mind operates.”- Page 26, “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle