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Understanding Narcissism, with Researcher, W. Keith Campbell | Ep 37

How do you navigate relationships with narcissistic people? Can narcissism be treated? What should you do in a divorce if your ex is a narcissist? In this podcast episode, Dr. Susan Orenstein speaks about Understanding Narcissism with Researcher Dr. W. Keith Campbell.



W. Keith Campbell, PhD, is a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, as well as the author of The Narcissism Epidemic, When You Love a Man Who Loves Himself, and more than 120 peer-reviewed articles. Dr. Campbell has appeared in most major media outlets, including the Today Show, CNN, and the Joe Rogan Experience. He has given a TEDx talk and was the educator behind the TED Ed lesson on narcissism. He lives in Athens, GA with his wife and daughters.

His newest book is The New Science of Narcissism Understanding One of the Greatest Psychological Challenges of Our Time – and What You Can Do About It.

Visit Keith Campbell’s website.




  • What is narcissism
  • Relationships with narcissistic people
  • “My crazy ex”
  • Navigating your narcissist ex


Narcissism does not equate to arrogance, being self-centered, or attention-seeking. There is sometimes a mix-up of meaning around what narcissism is because some people use the term as a character trait and others use it to describe a disorder.

When we talk about narcissism at the core it has to do with this positive view of yourself, you think you’re better than other people, and this sense of entitlement, maybe lack of empathy, that’s a big piece of narcissism. (Dr. W. Keith Campbell)

Within this core of narcissism, there are different aspects:

  1. Grandiose narcissism: extroverted, driven, ambitious. The kind of narcissism that other people like or enjoy.
  2. Vulnerable narcissism: a sense of entitlement, they think they deserve special treatment. They are shy and anxious and may have low self-esteem.
  3. Clinical narcissism: extreme grandiose and vulnerable mixed together, and this is a narcissistic personality disorder.

In their mind they’re often winning, as long as they’re succeeding, but the cost of that is interpersonal relationships and love. (Dr. W. Keith Campbell)


Different types of narcissists can change. Even though there are no specific tools, the most prominent research has shown that narcissists who stay in therapy for a long time can grow out of their narcissism.

These people can then learn in therapy how to connect more deeply and sincerely with those around them. The big challenge is getting narcissists into treatment.

I think there’s potential for change for people in marriage, it’s not hopeless … in general, change is possible with therapy. (Dr. W. Keith Campbell)

Grandiose narcissists are attractive people because at first, their arrogance comes across as them being self-assured and confident. The challenge is that over time these tendencies can come out in relationships. To see how someone might treat you, you need to look at their history.

Narcissists often take more than they give because for them the relationship is about ego. They use people as tools to meet their own needs and fulfill their desires and want for attention.


One of the first potential red flags that could warn you that a person is a narcissist is how they talk about people who they used to date, or are not on good terms with, or perhaps ended things with them.

The key is to focus on somebody that’s got the heart piece. If you’ve got the compassion … they can be as ambitious as they want, as long as the love’s there you’re going to be okay. But if there’s no love and you fall for the ambition, you’re in trouble, because you’re not going to find the love later on. (Dr. W. Keith Campbell)

If you are interested in dating someone who shows some narcissistic tendencies, look behind them at their history and try to get a fuller picture of what happened instead of believing them straight away, as they may skew the facts to keep themselves on the moral high ground.


If you are struggling with a difficult ex who is a narcissist in a divorce, find a good attorney and set some strong boundaries around your family and personal items.

Stick within the agreement fully and do not leave any wiggle room for your ex where manipulation could come in. It is good to be flexible, but with narcissists, you need to protect yourself.


BOOK | Dr. W. Keith Campbell – The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement

BOOK | Dr. W. Keith Campbell – The Handbook of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Theoretical Approaches, Empirical Findings, and Treatments

BOOK | Dr. W. Keith Campbell – The Narcissism Epidemic: When You Love a Man Who Loves Himself

BOOK | Dr. W. Keith Campbell – The New Science of Narcissism: Understanding One of the Greatest Psychological Challenges of Our Time – and What You Can Do About It


About your host:

Susan Orenstein, Ph.D.

Dr. Susan Orenstein is a licensed psychologist and relationship expert  with over twenty years of experience. In 2005, she founded Orenstein Solutions, a private counseling practice in North Carolina that serves children, teens, adults and couples. 

She created the After the First Marriage Podcast to support individuals through the significant life transition of divorce. She whole-heartedly believes that “happily ever after” is an option for everyone, and is dedicated to helping divorcées regain the confidence to pursue a fulfilling future after the first marriage. 

Whether you listen to the podcast, join the Facebook community, or follow along on Twitter,  you’re in the right place!

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