What do dreams of ladders, stairs and elevators ask us to consider?
Dreams of ladders, stairs and elevators are often accompanied by heightened emotions. You may feel a sense of nervousness or anxiety, of effort and labour, or alternatively of exhilaration and release. Dreams of elevators in buildings are more likely to relate to your constructed self and, therefore, have more to do with social or professional lives. Conversely, stairs going up or down into tunnels or into the ground are likely to be functioning on a more intrinsically personal level. Stairs or ladders in castles or ancient ruins may relate to experiences from your past, or even from your family history. Ladders against walls often relate to specific obstacles or opportunities in the present. Stairs in a house or mansion may relate to your sense of self, the role you play among family and friends, your material needs and the way you feel inside compared to the version of yourself you portray to the outside world.
This list is only indicative. Dreams may include stairs, elevators and ladders in a wide variety of settings and, like all dreams, have a variety of meanings that may be understood on different levels simultaneously. In fact, dreams of stairs and elevators may be urging you to consider that things have different meanings depending on which level you look at them.
In dreams, going down stairs or an elevator can often represent a descent into your deeper self and, therefore, can be symbolic of a journey to understand your psyche better. This journey into the unknown can be disconcerting, even frightening. There is a reason that the “journey within”, to deeper, lower realms has been represented in mythology across most cultures of the world. To go deep down can be perceived as a kind of death, of losing contact with light and life. It is important to understand, though, that however scared you may feel in the dream, this is not a symbol of actually dying but of learning something so new that it can be transformative.
All dreamwork, at its essence, is about recognising, honouring and ultimately integrating all aspects of the self. This means becoming consciously aware of the choices you make, the feelings you have, and all the responsibilities and emotions you may choose to embrace or deny. This is partly why nobody can ever be told exactly what their dreams mean — you need to recognise it within yourself. This is what a dream does. Dreams of going down stairs and elevators, as well as dreams of tunnels leading underground, can be an expression of that journey within. We are all so adept at ignoring or hiding things from ourselves and others that we would rather not deal with, but dreams of going down stairs are an invitation to begin the process of allowing some of those things deep inside you into the light of consciousness. That can be a terrifying feeling at first, however the reconciliation of dreamwork need not be quite so alarming. To understand that it is your deeper self you face, not some manifest entity of fear, can be a step towards acceptance and understanding. Taking the time to process your feelings, to forgive yourself for a life lived as a fallible human, as we all are, and begin the process of self-love is the challenge this dream asks of you. Coming to peace with yourself and then being able to share your own wisdom from a place of deep acceptance and worth are the gifts of this type of dream*.
Going down stairs or elevators in dreams does not necessarily lead to dark places or underground. Sometimes you may be descending a hill, a building or some other random place such as a train platform or shopping centre. In these instances, we need to look at what the role is of the symbolic descent, the going down. This may indicate stepping down from a position of power, perhaps in a job, community group or relationship. Going down stairs may also be a symbol for changing an opinion, especially if it was one that was quite inflexible and no longer serves you such as “stepping down” from a moral position and becoming more accommodating. Stairs down to a train station could symbolise the start of an internal journey. Stairs, or more often escalators, in a shopping centre may be exploring your ideas around material comfort, what you consume, your social persona, and how your authentic identity is tied to these things.
A journey downwards could also indicate less positive reflections. If you have been feeling sad, the dream of going down in an elevator from somewhere bright into a shadowy or less pleasant area may be playing out your emotions to show you how down you are feeling. Critically, as the journey down can also be a journey inward, the cause of your sorrow may be allayed by finding peace within yourself, taking time to go within and heal. Of course, this can be a difficult and often lonely experience.
If you are feeling very down and dreaming in this way, please reach out for help and support. It can be surprising, especially when we feel at our most alone and vulnerable, how many people around us are willing and able to offer comfort and support if we simply ask for it.
Plummeting downwards in an elevator, falling down stairs or falling off a ladder can be related to how we perceive our social standing and signify a sense of loss of social capital in some form. If you have been demoted, lost an important contract, lost membership to a club or lost contact with a certain group of friends or associates, you may have dreams like this.
Sudden changes in other life circumstances can also produce these kinds of dreams, where you may feel as if “the ground is falling out from under you”. This can relate to finances, work or relationships. It could also symbolise the discovery of a secret, or simply a new piece of information that changes everything for you.
Of course, we can also go up stairs, elevators and ladders in dreams. To go up in dreams could represent the opposite of the situations outlined above: a lift in mood and increasing happiness, new ideas and inspiration, promotions and a sense of “upward mobility” in life financially, professionally, socially or even spiritually.
Just as the downward journey can be an expression of the knowledge gained of our deeper self, the upward journey can be a movement towards the higher self — that is to say, towards ideals, goals and aspirations. Such dreams can come to inspire hope and to remind you that you are on the right path. Dreams of going up may also relate to inspiration and creativity, as well as morality.
Sometimes in dreams, the journey upwards may feel precarious, with handrails missing from the stairs or steps missing or hanging loose, rungs loose or missing from the ladder. This may be an expression of inner insecurity and a lack of trust in the available resources when moving towards a goal. Here the journey upward may be slowed or even thwarted in your dream by feelings of fear or anxiety, or the basic instability of the structure being climbed. This does not mean that the goal is unobtainable in waking life. Rather, it serves to highlight the reason you may not be achieving what you feel you want is because the journey is actually about overcoming fear or finding new abilities, connections or support to help you move forward. In this case, the dream may act as a wake-up call to regroup and regather as you carefully consider your next steps. It may be a great time to ask for help or to focus within and understand what inner obstacles you may bring to the situation unconsciously. Your dream will often provide clues in other ways regarding what these challenges may be.
Perhaps you can’t get up the stairs because they are wet and slippery and water is running down them. This may encourage you to question how your unacknowledged emotions are undermining you. Maybe the ladder feels rotten, old and weak, which can encourage you to think about how you have been neglecting your own health and could benefit from some lifestyle changes to make you feel invigorated, younger and stronger. Or, perhaps you are trying to “hold on” to ideas that are outdated and no longer serve you. A fraying-rope ladder can symbolise that you are feeling overworked or emotionally exhausted and that your “nerves feel frayed”.
Another common occurrence is to dream of getting into an elevator and being unable to reach the desired floor. Numbers in dreams often relate to specific times in waking life. Consider what floor you wish to get to or which one you are stuck on. The number may give you a clue that relates to your age, for instance. Perhaps you are stuck on floor 21, which could symbolise that events that occurred when you were 21, or ideas you still hold from that age, are impacting your life now and preventing your personal growth and progression in waking life. The numbers may also symbolise the date, number of days, weeks, months or evens years ago when that significant event occurred. They can have more complex meanings, too. You may dream of trying to get to level three if you have been trying or wishing for a third child, or of wanting to reach level 50 if you are hoping for a pay rise to $50k. It can help to reflect on your deeper goals and desires, then see what numerical values may be associated with them.
Dreams of ladders, stairs and escalators ask us to consider where we are moving. How are we getting there and why is the transition important? These dreams explore ideas around understanding life on multiple levels and what can be learned by going deeper or higher. They can raise questions around social mobility, professional progression and personal growth.
Want to learn more about what your dreams mean? Visit our Dreams archive page.