How to Leave a Cult

Leaving a cult is never an easy decision but by the time you have reached it, it's likely that you've thought long and hard and you're prepared.


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    Recognize that you're in an abusive religious group. In some places these are called "cults"; in others, "sects" or "fundamentalist" groups. Cults generally involve aggressive misinformation or misinterpretation ("brainwashing"), self-aggrandizement and even worship of a leader, isolation from and disrespect of outsiders, and undermining members' self-esteem.
    • If a religious group seems odd, but one wouldn't have to "escape" it, don't panic. It's probably not a cult. Join, stay, or leave, as you are persuaded.
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    Think through the reasons that cause you to want to leave the cult. Are any of these reasons based on abuse, oppression, lack of freedom of thought/speech/mobility, etc.? If so, consider seeking help from authorities who can intervene where laws are being broken.
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    Plan your departure. If you're in a cult that lives in a compound, you might be planning an escape rather than a mere departure. Where this is the case (and if you're even allowed to be reading this article), you'll need to plan very carefully and take any possible opportunity that arises to leave. Either have your bag packed and carefully stowed away, or simply be prepared to forget any possessions and get ready to go at a moment's notice. Even if you can leave at your own leisure, leaving will be no picnic in the park.
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    Leave. If you're getting away in a hurry from a live-in cult, use opportunities such as when people visit, when you are taken somewhere else outside the compound, when others in your compound decide to make a break for it at the same time (if you know that you can trust them). If you're leaving at your own pace, arrange for collection of you and your possessions by taxi, or a friend or family member not involved in the cult. If you don't need to physically leave the cult but you do need to break ties with it, then not returning to services will be the first indication that you have gone.
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    Try to have a place to stay in mind in advance. If you've left a live-in cult arrangement, you'll need a safe place to stay. Consider family, friends, refuges (shelters), or even a mainstream church charity. If you're in danger, the authorities should be able to help.
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    Be prepared for recriminations and attempts to get you back. Cultists tend to despise those who break ranks and threaten to expose what is really happening inside the cult. You will be viewed as a traitor and as someone who might be worth vilifying and telling lies about. Be prepared for this possibility. Alternately, they might seek to get you back by telling you that you're confused, that the evil from the outside has infected you, and that you need to return to be cleansed and restored. The important thing is to stand firm in believing that your choice to move on is right and that they might try anything. If you're afraid that they might try to physically take you back, seek protection. Finally, be prepared for excommunication and no further word. That can actually hurt a lot more than it might seem initially because suddenly you are forever cut off from those people you once knew really well. This is the time to get the support of other people who now surround you.
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    Remain strong in your convictions and beliefs. Your faith will be tested. You might want to read spiritual texts, read a variety of books with different interpretations of those spiritual texts, and visit other religious groups. It can also help to read about the experiences of other people who have broken away from cults to draw strength from how they coped with it.
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    Seek support from other people. Many people are sympathetic even if they don't understand the challenges facing those who exit a cult. Sometimes you might also need the help of an expert who specializes in reframing the lives of those who have experienced a cult lifestyle. If you've been under a lot of cult indoctrination expect some emotional withdraw. At the least sleep as much as you need, eat nutritiously and talk with people who are not involved with the cult. This will let you get accustomed to life as a non-cult member.
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    Continue journeying. Eventually you will be able to talk with others about your experiences and this might even translate to being able to help others in a similar bind. There are support networks online for people who have left cults; you might want to tap into those resources to share stories and spread support. In terms of your own spiritual journey, remain open-minded. The choice of some people to turn beliefs into cultish behaviors and narrow-minded self absorption is the exception rather than the rule. Most people of faith nurture their faith through reaching out to everyone in the community and lead lives that combine the secular and faith in tandem. This is worth striving for to ensure that you are whole and connected.


  • Some cults may send people to hunt you down and take you back to the group. You may be in danger. Get help from someone outside, and when you escape hide until it is safe.
  • If you still live near members of the cult, they might be spiteful or spread gossip about you. Warn friends, neighbors, etc., of what has happened. Remain polite when you see them around the streets and your persistence in being strong and polite will place you on the higher ground. You never know who might be contemplating the same move as you, so showing that it works can be a sign of support for them.
  • Do not give anyone in the cult the idea you are leaving. They will do their best to convince you and may not just stop at words to make you stay. They may also tell cult leaders to thwart your plans. Just leave quietly.

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Categories: Religion