Infants can only manage the good and bad aspects of themselves and of external objects by splitting them, that is, by keeping apart incompatible impulses. In order to separate bad and good objects, the ego must itself be split. Thus, infants develop a picture of both the "good me" and the "bad me" that enables them to deal with both pleasurable and destructive impulses toward external objects.

Splitting can have either a positive or a negative effect on the child. If it is not extreme and rigid, it can be a positive and useful mechanism not only for infants but also for adults. It enables people to see both positive and negative aspects of themselves, to evaluate their behavior as good or bad, and to differentiate between likable and unlikable acquaintances. On the other hand, excessive and inflexible splitting can lead to pathological repression. For instance, if children's egos are too rigid to be split into good me and bad me, then they cannot introject bad experiences into the good ego. When children cannot accept their own bad behavior, they must then deal with destructive and terrifying impulses in the only way they can—by repressing them.

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