The term ‘walk-away’ is used of someone who has left a cult on his or her own accord.
There are some who claim that people who are caught up in a cult or cult-like group have been brainwashed to such and extent that they are never willing or able to leave.
However, in most such groups people leaving is a common occurrence. The process may well be a difficult one, but few cults are able to exert such a high level of control that individuals can not at some point realize they no longer wish to be there — and then leave or plan to leave the group.
Note that even for walk-aways it is important to go through a exit counseling process.
In their book, Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich write:
In cults and abusive relationships, those in a subordinate position usually come to accept the abuse as their fault, believing that they deserve the foul treatment or that it is for their own good. They sometimes persist in believing that they are bad rather than considering that the person upon whom they are so dependent is cruel, untrustworthy, and unreliable. It is simply too frightening for them to do that: it threatens the balance of power and means risking total rejection, loss, and perhaps even death of self or loved ones.— Advertisement —
This explains why an abused cult follower may become disenchanted with the relationship or the group yet continue to believe in the teachings, goodness, and power of the leader.
Even after leaving the group or relationship, many former devotees carry a burden of guilt and shame while they continue to regard their former leader as paternal, all-good, and godlike. This is quite common in those who “walk away” from their groups, especially if they never seek the benefits of an exit counseling or therapy to deal with cult-related issues. This same phenomenon is found in battered women and in children who are abused by their parents or other adults they admire.
– Source: The Master Manipulator, Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, by Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich (see information about a revised and expanded edition)