One of the problems with solving problems by calling them “toxic” is that the word carries a large emotional load. Toxic means poisonous, and so the word is so infused with fear and avoidance that it labels and repels. It freezes experience and assesses blame instead of inviting a cure.
What might be useful instead is to visualize a troublesome situation as a knot in a favorite gold chain, one that seems to bollix things up just from sitting in the jewelry box too long. What is helpful there is to choose one place where matters have become tangled and untangle it.
So first try for a conversation that addresses one specific issue, untangling it from the knot. To begin, the person with the complaint can reveal what a word, phrase, or action has meant up until now. After that, a pause will let the other person respond, either in words or in actions.
When there has been at least a partial new understanding or a move to agreement in that regard, then untangle another strand in the knot. Later, another. Then, another. As the knot becomes looser, the other strands become free.
But pulling on the ends by freezing and assessing does nothing except make the knot harder. Greek mythology had a whole story about that.
Linda Chalmer Zemel received the Exceptional Performance Award from the National Guild of Hypnotists as a member of their faculty. She also writes the Buffalo Books column, and she teaches in the Communication Department at SUNY Buffalo State College.