Black Women Are Overfunctionally Grieving Part I

High-Achieving Black Women

Dear Black Women,

Our Black Girl Magic is real, but so is the exhaustive resiliency felt in having to continuously navigate various spheres of our lives and existence, strategically. I long to see many of us journey out of self-sacrificial endurance into the abode of ease found through a full body exhale. We are worthy of liberated joy from the inside out, and of unconditional care and support without having to ‘earn’ eligibility for it through perfectionistic overachievement.

So, while Black History month is usually 28 or 29 days of curated visibility that our country produces as its showing of the advancement of Black people, we know that it is essential year round that Black women receive genuine support and care. After all, we are often disproportionately affected by various health conditions that correlate to chronic elevated stress levels and systemic incidents that lead to our higher mortality rates.

High-achievement or overachievement does not shield us from societal experiences of mis-attunement to our physiological, emotional, and psychological needs. Perhaps, the internalized pressure of having to prove the validity of our concerns is often what contributes to many Black women being unaware of their lived experiences of ambiguous grief. 

Chronic exposure to toxic stress levels can be one of the causes of ambiguous grief, in addition to depressive and anxiety symptoms. While many Black women are aware of acute or complicated grief brought on by a concrete loss (e.g. a loved one), the experiences of ambiguous grief are often overshadowed by our self-sacrificial endurance.

 Ambiguous grief is known as a grief process whereby any area of our life is upended by a loss without resolve . Think — experiences of ghosting felt through online dating; the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic on our social experiences, with changes in community brought on by out-of-state moves due to virtual working options and the rise of housing cost; or inflation impacting the affordability of other various resources; our awareness of natural disasters, exposure to ongoing injustices, overstimulation by news and social media updates regarding acts of war and murder throughout the world; distance felt in longtime friendships; overlooked desires in relationships that lead to emotional distance, formal separation, or divorces.

In high-achieving Black women who are often underrepresented in the spaces that they occupy, stress symptoms that effect their bodies and their behaviors are often reported to be:

Self-blame, irritability, worse-case scenario thinking, physical aches, chronic fatigue, sadness and resentment, along with procrastination. These symptoms are congruent among many Black women, whether you self identify as high-achieving or not.

It’s not until I ask the following questions, “Do you know that you’re grieving? Do you know what you’re grieving? Do you know how grief has changed your life?” That many of my Black women clients allow themselves the spaciousness of curiosity regarding their relationship with grief. This is usually followed by visible release of constriction in their chest and more vulnerable self-expression from their lungs.

It’s then, that many Black career women describe how their ambiguous grief experiences also stem from their exposure to toxic inequitable workplaces that often lead to burnout, their awareness of pay inequities between them and their White counterparts although feeling more competent and experienced, exposure to micro-aggressions that also lead to biased performance reviews, lack of genuine listening of their complaints by managers, fear of retaliation when asking HR to intervene in work conflicts, and reduced work-satisfaction due to company disregard of their work/life boundaries or feeling limited in their creativity expression due to pressured unrealistic timelines for projects.

In short, there’s no appropriate time to grieve. The effects of systemic racism directly influences how Black Women are often gaslighted by oppressive tactics that make us deny or over-function through our own grief.  While the restorative steps for healing through ambiguous grief may differ from person to person in the diversity of Black womanhood, some practices that help cultivate the healing process no matter where you are starting from are: (1) Extending curiosity and compassion in our relationship with grief; (2) setting realistic expectations of ourselves; (3) recognizing how perfectionism is a defense strategy of self and NOT an inherent quality of self to be celebrated; (4) taking care of your mind, body, and heart through incremental basic routines that build upon restoration, (5) Allowing gentleness toward learning what your needs are without judgment, and (6) Giving self continual permission to to be receiver of care without pressuring self the prerequisite of having to prove “bravery” or “strength” for it. If you would like to learn more about your relationship to grief and how to journey from self-sacrificial endurance to ease, I’d love to connect with you. Reach out below.


A Fellow Black Woman Supporting Other Black Women In Unburdening Their Bodies

Carmelle Ellison, LCSW

I help high-achieving adults, especially in the BIPOC community live authentically wholesome lives via telehealth therapy throughout California.


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