Why do I always dream about stairwells and elevators?
May 23, 2008 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Whenever I dream, stairwells, elevators, and large buildings with multiple levels always figure prominently. There'd be nothing strange about this except a) my daily life does not involve stairwells, large buildings, or elevators in any way, and b) they're in absolutely every dream I have -- no exceptions. This has been going on for at least a year, possibly longer. What could be possibly be causing this?
posted by coizero to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe: Elevators in dreams typically are metaphors for communication between different “levels of awareness” in our minds.

Whatever it means, it's not literal----no surprise you don't deal with elevators/stairwells in your everyday life. Dreams aren't that straightforward most times.
posted by hulahulagirl at 12:28 PM on May 23, 2008

Ignore the content of your dreams. It's just a semi-random memory dump. But hey--what would I know?
posted by neuron at 12:30 PM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

When you dream about them, is there a feeling that always accompanies that part of the dream?
posted by prefpara at 12:35 PM on May 23, 2008

I suppose you'd have mentioned this, but do you know of any impactful events in your life that involved any of the things you mentioned, or that took place in an environment where they featured prominently (i.e. a big city)? If you lived in such a place as a kid, are you comfortable asking your parents about it?

Who knows. From ages 4-6 I had the same dream about a reporter in front of a Grand Canyon-esque landscape, talking about my death. I'd never been to the Grand Canyon...though I guess I shouldn't be surprised if someday I end up there.
posted by Beardman at 12:43 PM on May 23, 2008

I realize everybody hates or just plain ignores Freud now, but I just had to pipe up about stairways (or stairwells, or staircases). They were a classic Freudian image, whether you're traveling up or down, of sexual intercourse. But the disguised sexual content of a dream is a whole other thing to explore in itself -- if you wanted to continue in a Freudian mode, you wouldn't necessarily stop unpacking the dream at that point. (Also, if you dream about a sex act, it doesn't necessarily indicate "sex." It could mean connection, famililarity, agreement, etc.) And dream images always mean more than one thing. To explore that, try to think of something's opposite. For instance, if you dream about your mother, the dream might really be about your father, etc.

Personal note: I dream about elevators a lot too. Freud would say it's sexual, like the train traveling through the tunnel, or going up or down a staircase. And it might be, but it's also always a super scary dream for me. I'm traveling upward very fast, like I'm in a rocket (another familiar sexual image), losing my moorings and shooting off into outer space, far away from gravity and mother earth and anything familiar.

I vote for the elevator image as a death image -- the loss of connection and the traveling toward an unknown fate makes the experience frightening, but there's also an element of exhilaration and transcendence.

It could also be a birth thing--you're traveling through the birth canal, and it's terrifying. Birth and death have similar imagery.

If you're into this kind of interpretation, see more Freud and Carl Jung. Whether or not you literally agree with what they're saying, it's fascinating to read about this stuff.
posted by frosty_hut at 12:58 PM on May 23, 2008

Are they used in your dream the same way every time or are they just there in the background?
Maybe you are often climbing stairs or riding the elevator? Watching someone else do so?
posted by pointystick at 1:05 PM on May 23, 2008

Response by poster: So far, there have been lots of great responses!

In responses to some questions, you've asked:
* The stairwells (they're never open stairs ... they're always in a corridor/well with closed doors at the landings to reach various floors) are extremely long. Like 99 flights. And I'm ascending them for an extremely long time. Sometimes when I've reached the top, I realize there's something I've forgotten to do or someone will give a task to perform and I'll have to walk all the way back down. Sometimes I try to take two steps at a time, but it always takes a long time to go anywhere I'm trying to go. Many times, I'll encounter other people in the stairwell and chat. Sometimes I'll be part of a group that's going somewhere via the stairs.

*Many times when I reach the top of the stairs, I still have to leap to reach a hovering platform ... like a floating island.

* The elevators feel exactly like real-life elevators. Sometimes an elevator will be out of service, and I'll have to take the stairs instead. Sometimes I'll search a floor for an alternate elevator to avoid being on the elevator with someone I dislike. Sometimes the elevators are glass in large glass buildings.

* Often, the floors of the buildings are all differ from each other in some way (like in a department store). Sometimes it will be a dormitory and different age groups will be on separate floors. Sometimes it's a business and people will be performing different tasks on different floors. Sometimes it's hotel-like and there will be some sort of intrusion scenario. I'll crawl along the exterior to enter someone else's room or spy on them. Sometimes I'll be the one in the room and someone who is being chased will come to hide out in my room. Sometimes I'm a fugitive evading capture or a kid who's running away from home and I'll have a temporary room to hide out. Sometimes I'm part of a tour group that takes a break and stays in a big hotel and we just visit each other's rooms. Usually these (the tour group dreams) have elevators and atypically short stairwells.

* Whenever a subway is involved, the way to reach the subway never looks like a subway. It's always a narrow, cramped, suffocating tube.

*Every once in a while (rarely) there will be escalators as well. There will be rows and rows and rows of them in a huge open space and I can easily look over and see other travelers and it always feels easy to change directions. Sometimes there are lots of old-fashioned trains as well. These dreams -- as opposed to the others -- always involve a lot of fun and adventure, and make me feel like Huckleberry Finn. :-D
posted by coizero at 1:45 PM on May 23, 2008

Response by poster: ^^^ and please excuse my typos!
posted by coizero at 1:49 PM on May 23, 2008

Response by poster: And:

*The trains always involve stairwells and ladders as well. Either the train will be elevated or the train will be double- / triple- / quadruple- / etc. decker. No matter what, there is always a point -- and usually there are several -- when I have to climb within an enclosed space.
posted by coizero at 2:45 PM on May 23, 2008

I think there's two basic ways of trying to interpret dreams: looking at the universal/cultural symbolism of the images, and looking at the personal symbolism. Others have touched on the first, but you could explore the second by free writing about elevators, and what they make you think or feel. You could repeat this with stairs, tall buildings, and trains too.

Was there a time when you used to live in a place with tall buildings and stairwells? A trip you took to a place like that? A movie you saw? Someone important to you who lives in such a place?

Did anything major change in your life around the time these dreams started?

If you take the approach that the symbols are personal, then no one else can really tell you what they mean.
posted by overglow at 3:28 PM on May 23, 2008

Best answer: I think you are having career anxiety dreams. More specifically, anxiety about attaining recognizable goals or benchmarks in your career.

Do you sometimes regret the career path you have chosen, and think you should have done something else?
posted by jabberjaw at 5:14 PM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

^ I apologize if I'm way off mark.
posted by jabberjaw at 5:16 PM on May 23, 2008

Response by poster: We have a winner.
posted by coizero at 5:28 PM on May 23, 2008

Did you read something or see a movie that just stuck with you? I saw a Secret Garden type movie as a small child and have had long, involved dreams about huge, vast buildings, with endless rooms (with drawers and closets full off odd things) ever since. The first time I went to a mall, malls were added to the repertoire, first time I was in an airport, airports started to appear, etc.

I also twirl my hair when I'm thinking. I doubt either of these things are really packed with any specific meaning.

As long as you don't mind them, just continue to enjoy them.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:12 AM on May 24, 2008

Coizero: Those escalator dreams sound like wish-fulfilment. Bet they feel really great! I get that sort of dream occasionally. My initial reaction to your dreams was that anyway, as I love complex buildings with lots of stairs and elevators (I was quite young the first time I got to explore a large airport without adult supervision. Truly fabulous moment, for a kid from a small town!)
posted by Goofyy at 5:21 AM on May 28, 2008

« Older How do I care for an antique flag?   |   What is the pronunciation of Myanmar. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.