Cults are based around the blind obedience of their followers and the authority of their leader, with individuality stripped away in favor of assimilation. However, not every member of a cult is quite as brainwashed as the others, and the ones who are brave enough will often try to run for it or actively oppose their oppressors.
This can have varied results. Unlucky defectors will be caught and either killed or otherwise punished for their attempted rebellion. Those who manage to escape may still need to change their identity or location just to be safe, though some will try and rescue some others who couldn't escape in time. To the cult they left, they may become known as a famous traitor, get erased from the cult's history, or be tracked down by the authorities. Living after the escape typically involves a lot of fear and caution, especially as they've turned against something they've been conditioned to see as right, and will generally be Not Used To Freedom. At times, this may be a character's Dark and Troubled Past.
This doesn't have to happen with actual cults, and characters escaping from cult-like groups can apply here as well. The important part is that a character at least attempts to escape from an oppressive, brainwashing group.
Compare Defector from Decadence.
No Real Life Examples, Please! This sort of thing is a sensitive subject, one that need not be discussed on TV Tropes.
Beware of unmarked spoilers!
- The first mission as the new Agent J in the first volume of Men in Black was to introduce into a new kind of drug, the Bezerk, which developed a cult around it. J has the mission of going undercover in this cult, being used by K as a Guinea Pig, rescuing J before he died and annihilating all the cult.
- Guardians of Ga'Hoole: Soren and Gylfie meet when they're both taken to an Orphanage of Fear known as "St. Aggies", where young owls spend their time being brainwashed and assimilated. Each night, they attempted to resist, but were caught and subjected to a stronger form of the regular brainwashing. However, through reciting legends about the mythical GaHoole, they were able to resist that brainwashing, too. Though they were able to escape by learning to fly, they were chased down by a patrol and the two other owls who weren't being brainwashed, Hortense and Grimble, were both caught and killed for their troubles.
- In the John Carter of Mars series, Xodar is first introduced as one of the many members of the Cult of Issus. After falling out of favor with his people, he is shown the true face of Issus - that of a hideous old woman - and decides to forsake the cult forever, joining John Carter and Carthoris in their efforts to escape.
- In Banana Yoshimoto's Lake Nakajima was kidnapped as a child by an Aum Shinrinkyo-like cult, until he escaped several years later. His mother's quest to get him back made national news, and he still bears the emotional scars from his time there.
- Winston Smith and Julia in Nineteen Eighty-Four both resist the totalitarian cult of the Party and Big Brother, but after his imprisonment and torture, Winston comes to love Big Brother.
- In the Venus Prime series, Sparta grew up in the Free Spirit, a transhumanist cult that believed her to be The Chosen One. She later got free, and spends the first half of the series fighting to wipe out the Free Spirit's operatives.
- In Orange Is the New Black, Velma inverts this by being the only person who does not leave her cult, because she is so shy and afraid of the world, and being in the cult makes her feel safe and special. When the cult leader/her husband berates her, that the whole cult was a lie and that she only stays because shes weak, she responds by pushing him over a cliff and uttering her only words in the entire series.
- In one Portlandia, the two characters accidentally join a cult after visiting the farm that provided their organic chicken. After living there happily for several years, they randomly decide to leave. This is played completely for laughs.
- The second season of The Sinner opens with an attempt to rescue a young boy from a cult. The effort goes horribly, horribly wrong, resulting in a double homicide.
- Kimmy Schmidt of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt escaped from a guru who made her and two other women fear the End of Times.
- Arkham Horror: Diana Stanley "the Redeemed Cultist" joined the Silver Twilight Lodge to fit into Arkham social life, learned just how horrific their Inner Sanctum rituals really are, and now seeks desperately to atone for her part in them. Her personal story has her become an effective Reverse Mole and feed information on the Lodge to the police.
- In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the Mythic Dawn Apocalypse Cult member Eldamil does this posthumously in the Artificial Afterlife that their leader Mankar Camoran built with a Daedric Prince's patronage. Realizing that they were being used and their "Paradise" is a trap, he helps the Player Character find and kill Camoran.
- Far Cry 4: Ishwari, the Player Character's mother, was a "Living Goddess" avatar of Kyrat's patron deity and a co-founder of the Golden Path religious movement/La Résistance with her husband. When she realized that her husband was every bit as brutal as the dictator they had sworn to depose, she left for America with their young son.
- Cosmic Dash: Orthos Kabalos is heavily implied to be a former member of the Cult of Y'tun Sargon who left after the cult killed his wife. Now he leads the task force investigating them.
- The Mirror: The members of the cult known as "The Mirror" are, at first, obedient and happy to serve their leader, Curtis. However, in "Lesson 28: Water", the main trio of followers have to chase down a fourth child as he tries to make a break for it. This follower is not seen by the next video, and his fate is unknown to the audience. By the last episode, the three followers themselves are missing, with the implication being that they lost faith and defected as well.
- Don't Hug Me I'm Scared: After being subjected to four abusive lessons by some unhelpful "teachers" on their television show, the Red Guy is gone from the group by video 5. Despite being gone from the show, he was still on set attempting to help his friends escape as well. Duck Guy tried to leave, but was killed before he could, and video 6 shows that Red Guy is still badly affected by his time on set and finds himself unable to function in the normal world, which appears to have taken the "lessons" to heart- everyone is exactly the same, and Red Guy gets rejected when trying to be creative with the song from video 1 (although this might actually be a flashback to before the show began).
- The Alternate Reality Game Spectacular Organic involves a health-food company serving as the front for a cult. Doug Horry, an ex-member of the organization, had been "excommunicated" after trying to learn about the cult, and spends his time on the run while trying to help players uncover the secrets of Spectacular Organic.
- The Justice League Unlimited episode "The Ties That Bind" (which provides the page quote) shows how Mr. Miracle resisted throughout his childhood the cultish control Granny Goodness had over the children of Apokolips and even broke the hold the cult had over Big Barda, who Miracle later marries. When Mr. Miracle returns to Apokolips to "rescue" Kalibak and escapes once again, Granny is bewildered that Miracle withstood her years of torture and attempted brainwashing.
Granny Goodness: How? Granny never failed with any of them. How did I fail with him?
- In the Rocko's Modern Life episode "Schnit-Heads", Heffer joins a cult that is obsessed with eating sausages. After he gets tired of eating sausages for every meal, he tries to run away, but can't, forcing Rocko and Filburt to rescue him.