The ‘DIME Game’ Is the Therapist-Backed Way To Help People-Pleasers Assert Themselves

Photo: Getty Images / milorad kravic
Picture this scenario: Your phone pings with a text from a friend, asking if you can help them move on Saturday. You already have plans that day, and you don’t particularly feel like throwing out your back helping them haul their couch up three flights of stairs. For most people, handling this request entails shooting back a quick, “Sorry, I’m not available on Saturday!” and moving on. But if you’re a people-pleaser—meaning that you habitually put others’ needs and emotions before your own—this kind of request would throw you into a true emotional quagmire.

Experts In This Article

People-pleasing is fairly common: 49 percent of Americans (and 56 percent of women) self-identify as people-pleasers, according to an August 2022 poll by YouGov. But while this behavior can come off as just being “nice,” it can actually result in difficulties with setting boundaries, burnout, or a poor sense of self.

Many different therapy modalities can help clients overcome people-pleasing and the underlying emotional issues associated with the behavior, including Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). This form of talk therapy is meant to help people learn how to manage and regulate intense emotions. While DBT was created specifically to help people with borderline personality disorder, many of the skills used within DBT treatment plans can be adapted for everyday situations—such as people-pleasing. Enter the DIME game: a DBT skill that allows you to ask for what you want and confidently say no to what you can’t take on.

By asking a series of yes or no questions, the DIME (Describe, Inquire, Make a Request, and Express yourself) game provides you with direct, actionable advice on how to handle interpersonal conflict. The game will not only tell you whether to make (or decline) a request, but also, it will suggest a level of assertiveness to use while asking for what you want. And for people-pleasers, that can be, well, a game-changer for setting boundaries.

What is the DIME game?

The DIME game is a DBT technique designed to help you identify what you want out of a particular conflict or request, so you can approach the conversation more confidently and assertively. Therapist Ella Laniado, LMSW, LSW, who specializes in anxiety and OCD treatment, describes the DIME game as a structured guide for approaching confrontations. “Think of it as the trusty compass that helps you navigate the often turbulent waters of expressing your needs with clarity,” she says.

"Think of [the DIME game] as the trusty compass that helps you navigate the often turbulent waters of expressing your needs with clarity." —Ella Laniado, LMSW, LSW, therapist

The technique is currently making waves on social media because of its ability to help someone quickly and decisively come to a conclusion on whether, and how assertively, they should ask for something or decline someone’s request. This can come in handy in socially sticky situations, like asking a friend for money or to take care of you when you’re sick.

The game begins with two simple questions: “Do I ask?” and “Do I say no?”

If you are looking to ask for something, the quiz asks you a series of 10 yes or no questions:

  • Capability: Is this person able to give or do what I want?
  • Priorities: Is getting my objective more important than my relationship with this person?
  • Self-respect: Will asking help me feel competent and self-respecting?
  • Rights: Is the person required by law or moral code to do or give me what I want?
  • Authority: Am I responsible for telling the person what to do?
  • Relationship: Is what I want appropriate for this relationship? (Is it right to ask for what I want?)
  • Goals: Is asking important to a long-term goal?
  • Give and take: Do I give as much as I get with this person?
  • Homework: Do I know what I want and have the facts I need to support my request?
  • Timing: Is this a good time to ask? (Is the person in the right mood?)

If you are looking to decline someone’s request, the quiz asks you the same series of yes or no questions, but with you being the person being asked (instead of the person doing the asking).

The algorithm for the free online version will then tally the number of yes and no responses to tell you whether you should ask (or decline), and how assertively you should ask (or decline). You might get an answer like, “Say you’d rather not, but do it gracefully,” for a situation like helping your friend move. If you’re wondering whether to ask your boss for a raise, you might get an answer like, “Ask firmly; insist; negotiate; keep trying.” Ideally, this will allow you to communicate your request or refusal in a way that’s clear, healthy, and decisive.

Why is the DIME game effective?

Let’s be clear: The DIME game is not at all the same as receiving full DBT treatment. But playing the DIME game can help foster some of the skills that are harnessed in DBT sessions. According to Laniado, the DIME game can be helpful in developing healthy communication, regulating emotions, and increasing your tolerance for distress. She also suggests that the DIME game can provide “a roadmap for maintaining self-respect” while navigating conflict.

Laniado credits the game’s success to the fact that it’s applicable to nearly all conflicts, at nearly all ages. “I've played this game with children navigating the complexities of peer dynamics, teachers, or parents,” she says, “and I've seamlessly integrated it into sessions with adults grappling with confrontations in their personal and professional lives.”

Essentially, the questions of the game are broad enough to be widely useful, but specific enough to deliver results. “By answering yes or no to specific questions,” says Colette Sachs, LMSW, associate therapist at Manhattan Wellness, “[people] can develop awareness of their boundaries and practice expressing their needs in a controlled setting before facing similar situations in real life.” If you’re a people-pleaser, this practice is key to helping you understand what you want or need before you face the emotional pressure of someone else’s needs or issues.

Laniado also mentions that the DIME game has helped her clients to describe situations objectively, be curious about another person’s perspective, and be clear and assertive when making requests. This can be incredibly helpful if you’re a people-pleaser and thus struggle to see past another person’s needs or emotions. Through the process of the DIME game, you can actively learn to check the facts while still being respectful of others’ time and capacity.

As mentioned earlier, the DIME game is also designed for you to understand, then communicate, your needs clearly and effectively—which can be especially difficult for people-pleasers. “A people-pleaser will often chronically override their needs in order to meet others’ demands,” clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, previously told Well+Good, often due to a desire to avoid conflict or receive validation.

Recall the earlier example about the friend asking for help with their move. A people-pleaser might automatically say “yes” to that ask without thinking through what they actually want or have time for. Having a framework like the DIME game, which gives you a chance to check in with yourself, can help you cut through the noise of what others want to get at the heart of what you want or need. You might realize, for example, that while it’s certainly valid of your friend to ask you to help them with their move, they haven’t provided any similar help for you recently—and that in the long run, you won’t regret not helping them this one time.

When should I not use the DIME game?

It’s clear that the DIME game is a useful, widely applicable tool for navigating conflict. But if you’re experiencing mental health or relational challenges that span beyond everyday people-pleasing, don’t just rely on the DIME game: Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional for more help and support. This is also true of abusive relationships; if you are a current survivor of intimate partner violence or emotional abuse, talking to a mental health professional is a much safer, more effective approach than using the DIME game on your own.

What are some other therapy skills that can help with people-pleasing?

If you’re looking to gain therapy skills that are similar to the DIME game, Sachs recommends considering the following (or asking your therapist for help trying these techniques):

  • Role-playing scenarios: This is similar to the DIME game, but instead of the game, it involves rehearsing for social interactions that may result in conflict or anxiety.
  • Mindfulness and self-compassion: These practices bring awareness to your own needs and allow you to express more kindness toward them.
  • Communication skills training: This involves learning and practicing modes of communication that can increase assertiveness.

Sachs notes that these particular exercises can build on your ability to set boundaries and express your needs—all vital skills that can help to stop (or slow) people-pleasing in its tracks. With time and practice, you'll be saying no (and meaning it!) with confidence.

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