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A DBT Skill for Overcoming People-Pleasing Fear

How the “dime game” can help you assert yourself.

Key points

  • People-pleasing often stems from fear of rejection or anxiety about "burdening" others.
  • A DBT skill called the dime game offers a tool for challenging people-pleasing fear.
  • Ten yes-or-no questions provide concrete advice on how to assert yourself.
 PNW Production / Pexels
Source: PNW Production / Pexels

If you routinely struggle to maintain your boundaries, you're not alone. When I share mental health tips through social media, my videos on people-pleasing are often my most popular posts.

People-pleasing is the tendency to prioritize and accommodate the needs of other people. It includes difficulties saying no, expressing honest opinions, or asking for help when needed. These behaviors can cause major problems.

If you consistently prioritize others' needs over your own, it may cause burnout, resentment, or feelings of inauthenticity. These experiences, in turn, can lead to less intimate and fulfilling relationships—the exact outcome people-pleasers are often trying to prevent through their people-pleasing.

While people-pleasing may feel like it comes from a place of deep compassion, it often comes from a deep-seated fear of rejection or disappointing others. If you struggle with people-pleasing, you may feel intense anxiety when faced with the option to assert your needs. Perhaps you have a general discomfort with conflict or are hyperaware of "inconveniencing" or "burdening" others. One of the most powerful ways to overcome people-pleasing is to get more comfortable challenging these fears.

The Dime Game: Tool for Challenging People-Pleasing Fear

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based treatment for a variety of mental health disorders. While the therapy was created to help people with borderline personality disorder, DBT offers dozens of skills to manage stress, cope with difficult emotions, and assert limits. One of these skills is the "dime game." [1]

From DBT's interpersonal effectiveness module, the dime game is designed to help you determine how intensely to ask for something or how intensely to say no within a given interpersonal situation. It asks a series of 10 yes-or-no questions about your situation and then tallies your answers to suggest a 0-10 "level of intensity" for asserting yourself. Thus, it provides concrete advice about whether or not to assert yourself and how strongly to assert yourself.

While the skill was not created for this use, I have found the dime game to be incredibly helpful to use as a "gut check" with my clients who struggle with people-pleasing. If people-pleasing anxiety makes you not want to ask someone for something, but then the dime game suggests it would be appropriate to "ask firmly; resist no," then you have reason to believe it would be effective to challenge your fear. It can motivate you to ask.

How to Use the Dime Game

You can find instructions for the dime game in Marsha Linehan's DBT skills training book. There is also a website created by Bethany Hitch where you can "play" for free. Here are the basics for using the skill when making a request.

Answer each of the 10 questions with a yes or no, considering your current situation and request. (This version of the dime game's questions is based on my co-authored DBT self-help book [2] and the original skills book. [1])

  • CAPABILITY: Does the other person actually have the ability to give me what I'm asking for?
  • PRIORITIES: Is getting what I want more important to me right now than my relationship with the other person?
  • SELF-RESPECT: Will making this request strengthen my sense of self-respect or help me feel more capable and effective?
  • RIGHTS: Do I have the right to what I want according to any law or universal moral principle? Would just about everyone agree that I am entitled to my request?
  • AUTHORITY: Am I responsible for telling the other person what to do?
  • RELATIONSHIP: Given the nature of my relationship with this person, is my request appropriate?
  • GOALS: Is getting (or asking for) what I want important to a long-term goal of mine?
  • GIVE AND TAKE: Do I give at least as much as I get within this relationship, in general?
  • HOMEWORK: Am I clear on what I want, and do I have all the relevant facts for making this request?
  • TIMING: Is now a good time to ask the other person (due to their mood, the current circumstances, etc)?

Add together all of your "yes" answers. You can consider each "yes" as going up one "intensity level" on a scale of 0 to 10—the higher the intensity, the more likely you should make your request and the stronger you should make it. Suppose you use the original skills manual, my book, or the free website. In that case, you are given specific instructions for each intensity level (e.g., five yes answers equals "Ask gracefully but take no"). Note: The dime game isn't perfect; you can always move up or down a level (or two) if you think it's missing something important.

Of course, the actual asking is the tricky part for many people. (Luckily, DBT has a lot of other skills to help with that.) But playing the dime game can be a useful place to start. It offers a concrete tool for examining any people-pleasing fear or urges. Getting its reassurance may provide just a little bit more confidence next time you're hesitating to assert your needs due to anxiety.


[1] Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets: Second Edition. New York: Guilford Press.

[2] Fehling, K. & Weiner, E. (2023) Self-Directed DBT Skills: A 3-Month Workbook. New York: Zeitgeist.

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