‘I couldn’t live with myself’

Former bully changes ways after seeing news of suicide

Antonio Virgo used to be a bully.

In high school, he would tease others to build himself up, he says.

Then it hit him. He stopped bullying once he understood how his actions could lead to very real, very serious consequences, the now 22-year-old Durham College student said.

“I saw on the news one time a kid in the [United] States who hung himself at home because he was bullied for being gay,” Virgo said. “I couldn’t live with myself if I [caused] someone to do that.”

I wanted to be the cool kid, who everyone respected and looked up to. I now know that I used fear to do that.

—Antonio Virgo

Bullies want to be respected but they don’t go about it the right way, said Debra Pepler, a psychology professor at York University and a researcher for bullying-prevention website prevnet.ca.

“Bullying is about that person seeking power, and maybe they’re seeking status and attention,” Pepler said. “Children who bully are morally disengaged, they don’t care about the impact of their behaviour on others, often they’re not thinking and they don’t take responsibility for their actions.”

That sort of behaviour can continue into adulthood if the issue is not addressed during childhood, said Dr. David A. Wolfe, chair in children’s mental health at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

“If a person is successful [at bullying] they have an increased risk in repeating that in new situations, which would be marriage, child rearing [and] dating,” Wolfe said.

But disciplining a bully is not easy and can exacerbate the behaviour, Pepler said.

“Reprimanding a bully is not the answer,” she said. “Bullying is a relationship problem. There should be consequences but they need to be educational rather than vindictive or hostile.

“Giving them detention just makes them angry. Bully’s need to be taught compassion.”

Virgo agreed.

“I often sat in detention for hours due to my actions,” he said. “It just made me more angry and want to hurt the one who told [on me].”

Becoming a bully, Wolfe said, is sometimes a way for a child to keep from being bullied.

“They may not set out to bully or consider it bullying but they want to receive attention for something they think they’re good at,” Wolfe said.

It was attention, Virgo said, that he was after in high school.

“I wanted to be the cool kid, who everyone respected and looked up to,” Virgo said. “I now know that I used fear to do that.”