Leaving a cult is incredibly difficult and potentially dangerous for cult survivors. Despite the difficulty, many people escape from cults and eventually rebuild their lives. For the people who do, facing the battle to find closure and to heal can be brutal. It is important to be aware of the psychological effects of leaving a cult, the obstacles to departure, sources of support, and possible steps to closure and healing. The ultimate goal is to have a healthy, happy life post-cult.

The Psychological Effects of Leaving a Cult for Cult Survivors

Contrary to popular belief, leaving a cult is a slow and often harrowing process. The emotional, mental, and social effects of being in a cult can linger far after departure. The psychological effects for cult survivors of leaving a cult can include:

  • Mental confusion: After leaving a cult, cult survivors may experience feelings of confusion and personality disorganization as they struggle to reconcile their cult identities with the world they once knew.
  • Depression and anxiety: Depression is the most common mental illness experienced by cult survivors. It is common for people to have difficulty controlling their emotions and anxiety in the aftermath. These can manifest in physical symptoms, such as insomnia, poor concentration, and panic attacks.
  • Social detachment: Many cult survivors find it difficult to trust people outside the cult and to form meaningful friendships and relationships. They may also struggle with feelings of guilt or shame, and find it hard to relate to society’s values and norms.
  • Post-traumatic stress: This can occur from physical, mental, and emotional abuse experienced within the cult. Post-traumatic stress can manifest in intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares.

Overcoming Obstacles to Departure for Cult Survivors

Fear of Retaliation

Leaving a cult can be a difficult decision for those who are in it. It is common for cult members to be threatened with consequences if they leave, such as physical harm or financial distress. These fears may prevent cult members from exiting. Many cult survivors have been harrassed for years after leaving.

Cult Brainwashing

Cult members often experience intense brainwashing, which perpetuates an unquestioning loyalty to the leader and organization. Cults also make it difficult to communicate with the outside world, furthering the sense of isolation for cult survivors.

Social Pressure

Cults can serve as an individual’s social community, providing a sense of belonging and purpose. Leaving a cult can shatter a root sense of identity and purpose and create feelings of social isolation, even when the cult survivor is surrounded by friends and family.

Finding Support After Leaving a Cult

Finding support and connecting with others who have experienced a similar journey is paramount for post-cult healing and growth for cult survivors.

Support Groups

Support groups are organized to assist cult survivors and their loved ones. These meetings can help survivors process their experience, share their stories, and gain information and tips from experienced surviviors.


Receiving counseling from a mental health professional can be an effective way to help the healing process. A mental health professional can assist cult survivors in overcoming psychological obstacles, such as low self-esteem, intrusive thoughts, and guilt and shame.

Medical Aid

Survivors of cults may need medical aid, such as counseling and medication, to heal physical and psychological wounds.

Moving Forward with Closure and Healing

Once survivors connect with the appropriate support, they must next focus on their physical and psychological closure and healing.


Survivors can seek counseling to help them restore feelings of belonging and purpose. A therapist can help them to understand their experience and rediscover themselves.

Building Resilience for Cult Survivors

Survivors of cults can build resilience by increasing their self-awareness, cultivating self-compassion, and engaging in positive self-talk. Learning mindful relaxation and stress management strategies can help survivors cope with anxiety and depression.

Changing Thought Patterns for Cult Survivors

Survivors can identify and challenge the cult’s thoughts, values and beliefs that remain entrenched in their minds. Working with a professional to identify and replace unhelpful thinking patterns can help survivors learn positive, new ways of dealing with difficult emotions.

Conclusion: Help for Cult Survivors

Leaving a cult is extraordinarily difficult and emotionally taxing. Although the process can be overwhelming, survivors can draw strength from knowing that they are not alone. Seeking out appropriate support can aid survivors in their recovery and empower them to move forward with closure and healing.

As anyone who has suffered the physical and emotional pain of living within a cult will tell you, it’s not easy to leave. Beyond being emotionally dependent on the cult’s leader and fellow members, survivors often battle with a sense of guilt and self-doubt. This can lead to a cycle of abuse and brainwashing that is all too common in some individuals’ experiences.

Cults have the power to manipulate individuals by using fear, guilt and lies to control people’s emotions. They can also put extreme pressure on members to obey the leader, who is often viewed as a god-like figure. Survivors of cults often find themselves in an atmosphere of extreme loyalty to the group and its leader. This atmosphere, combined with certain events such as being excluded from the group, can lead to an individual’s feelings of shame, guilt, and depression.

Cults also limit communication between those in the cult and the outside world, isolating individuals from their family, friends and other members of society. This emotional coercion can encourage individuals to remain in the cult and can make it difficult for individuals to break free from its hold. Without any external support, it can be especially difficult for individuals to re-establish an independent life.

One way society can support cult survivors is by increasing awareness. It is important to recognize the warning signs of cult involvement and to provide a network of support for those leaving a cult. This could include access to mental health services and support groups to help survivors transition back into regular society.

Cult survivors require a great deal of emotional and mental support once they decide to leave their cult. It is important to remember that this is a difficult journey, and that what might appear to be a simple solution is not. Survivors require understanding and compassion from their family, friends and society at large. With this type of understanding, survivors can start to rebuild their lives and pursue their dreams.