I’m grateful that my training as a therapist focused on understanding motivation, that is, why people say what they say and do what they do. Understanding motivation is key to having positive interactions with people whether talking about eating or anything else under the sun. After all, the why is as important as the what.

Did it ever occur to you that someone’s remarks or actions have nothing to do with you even though they’re directed at you? Here’s an example. Say you’re telling a friend that binge-eating is now considered a disorder under the same clinical umbrella as anorexia and bulimia, which you mention because you know your friend used to have bulimia. Then, say, your friend gets touchy and immediately changes the subject. There are two possible explanations: Either you said something offensive or, equally possible, you didn’t, but your friend was triggered emotionally by what you said.

Maybe your friend was uncomfortable being reminded that she used to be bulimic. It could be a sore subject with her, one she doesn’t want to think or talk about and your raising it upsets her. Rather than saying she’s uncomfortable, however, she gets angry.

Another example. Say you’re trying to spend less time with Mom because she doesn’t listen to you, treats you like a child, and is bossy and controlling. Explaining that you’re very busy with work and the kids, you propose getting together every other, rather than every, week. She lashes out about all she’s done for you and what a terrible daughter you are and refuses to see you at all. If you’re like most disregulated eaters, you’ll feel guilty and awful that you’ve done something wrong—and go eat. But, take another look at what’s going on and see if you can come up with what’s really triggering Mom’s fury.

How about that Mom was hurt and trying to hurt you back. Rather than express her hurt or inquire why you might be pulling away, she wants you to feel as rotten as she does. Once you recognize this dynamic, you have a different interpretation of the situation and can have a different response. You can see that you’ve done nothing wrong by taking care of yourself and that your mother is thinking only about herself, not you.

Try to understand the dynamics of interactions and you’ll get a better handle on what’s really happening—and abuse food less. Even when people get angry at you, you’re not necessarily to blame. My guess is it’s often the other guy who’s to blame.