Ladders are a common sight in any handy person’s garage, and seeing ladders in our dreams may seem a bit out of place. However, as mundane as ladders may be in waking life, they take up a whole new meaning in our dreams.
Dreams of climbing ladders reflect changes in perspective and progress in life. Apart from being potent symbols of transition, ladders in dreams also denote the connection between our conscious mind and our unconscious feelings.
These are a few of the complex ways to interpret this seemingly simple tool. As such, psychological approaches to dream interpretation can help untangle the insights dreams about ladders may reveal.
Ladders and Dreams: Psychological Overview
Ladders are an interestingly common object in dreams. Dreams strongly associated with defying or actively resisting gravity (flying, levitating, riding an airplane, etc.), have been identified as one of the most common types of dreams.
In fact, one of the most renowned dreams involves ladders. The account of Jacob dreaming of a ladder with angels going to and from Heaven and Earth is a well-known instance of ancient dream interpretation.
As a common and remarkable dream object, ladders in dreams have been the subject of analysis by various perspectives in psychological dream interpretation. Even simple objects like tools can be emotional metaphors and extensions of the self.
For instance, dreaming about frantically climbing a ladder to escape danger can signify anxious thoughts and feelings. This can denote a tacit desire to flee from conditions or issues that cause us great stress.
Ladders in our dreams can likewise embody our plans and roadmaps in life, representing advancements in our careers or the stages of our relationships. The way we climb the ladder can hint at our progress in these areas of our lives.
Furthermore, like stairs and bridges, dreams about ladders can also be representations of transitions. These transitions can range from circumstances in our lives, such as entering a new social environment or experiencing significant shifts in one’s personality.
Dreams about Ladders in Jungian Analysis
Jungian analysis understands dreams as symbolic messages from the deepest reaches of our unconscious. By examining the elements within our dreams, we come to a higher understanding of the state of our innermost selves.
One significant concept in Jungian analysis is the connection of our individual consciousness to the collective unconscious. To put it simply, the collective unconscious is the thoughts and beliefs of our culture and society.
Jungian analysis also views dreams as important touchstones for a process of self-discovery and development known as individuation. Individuation involves harmonizing our individual consciousness with the collective unconscious.
Ladders in Dreams and the Collective Unconscious
Objects that have a transitory or connective function, like doors or ladders, typically bear a strong affinity to the collective unconscious. Encountering or interacting with these objects in our dreams can be an invitation to see worldly influences within ourselves.
A ladder in our dream can therefore be interpreted as a reflection of our individual mind’s connection to a “higher system.” These can range from our cultural beliefs to the social attitudes of our peers. Essentially, ladders in dreams are bridges between us and the world.
Thus, if the ladder in our dreams is rotted or broken, then this may imply a strong dissonance between ourselves and the world around us. This is likely provoked by pressures at work or home along with dissatisfaction with the environment around us.
If we thereby dream of easily and quickly climbing a ladder, then this can signify a strong connection between us and the world. This may be an indication of our skill and ease with the environment around us.
As ladders in dreams represent our connection with the collective unconscious, they can also help individuation. The condition of the ladder and the ways we interact with it can show us how well we unite our individual selves with the collective unconscious.
Ladders in Dreams and Individuation
Ladders in our dreams are potent representations of our progress toward individuation. As objects that link one place to another (a higher area to a lower area), ladders signify the connection between the conscious and the unconscious.
As such, ladders are closely linked to the concepts of unity and self-transformation. Climbing a ladder can thus reflect the act of bonding the disparate parts of ourselves and achieving harmony with the world around us.
Ascending a ladder in our dreams, for instance, can imply improving our relationships with the people in our environment. Our unconscious minds may be demonstrating their desire to reach “up” toward something greater than our individual selves.
Dreaming about descending a ladder, in contrast, may denote a more introspective direction for our path toward individuation. This can be our unconscious minds prodding us to turn inward and address the disparate aspects of ourselves.
Watching someone else use a ladder in our dreams can signify a longing for self-improvement. This is especially true if the person climbing the ladder is someone we know. This can mean that our progress toward individuation may involve them.
Dreams about Ladders in Freudian Psychoanalysis
Freudian psychoanalysis views dreams as holding the key to our innermost desires, impulses, and thoughts. The elements, scenarios, and actions in our dreams are often interpreted in relation to our upbringing and sexuality.
Freudian psychoanalysis typically understands dreams through the language of sexual symbolism. By relating these symbols to our upbringing and recent experiences in waking life, we may be able to address our conflicting thoughts and feelings.
Tools in dreams, like ladders, also bear this symbolism. As they are items that closely interact with our body, they are more intimately attuned to our most basic impulses and subconscious wishes.
Ladders in Dreams and Sexual Symbolism
Freudian psychoanalysis gives special attention to items associated with bodily movement and constant and repetitive motions. These attributes mirror our sensual impulses and the act of sex itself.
Hence, ladders in dreams are interpreted as profound representations of sexual activity and identity. Dreaming of climbing up or down a ladder shadows latent sexual desires and frustrations, possibly activated by recent interactions in waking life.
Climbing a ladder in our dreams can also be linked to latent aggression. The act of reaching out from one rung of the ladder to the next is a forceful act denoting a desire for direction and change as we go up or down the ladder.
Dreams about Ladders in Gestalt Dreamwork
Gestalt dreamwork proposes that dreams are vivid projections of various facets of ourselves. Every part of the dream signifies aspects of our identity in need of realization. Once identified, we can address them to heal our inner conflicts.
Actions in our dreams, even those involving tools like ladders, can certainly be reflections of ourselves. This applies even more if these actions activate our bodies, as climbing requires the exertion of our whole body– an analog to our whole identity.
By consciously engaging with the objects that we climb in our dreams (such as ladders) we may be able to extract insights about our thoughts, feelings, struggles, and motivations.
Ladders in Dreams and Components of the Self
As such, for dreams about climbing a ladder, Gestalt dreamwork would prompt us to consider the appearance, condition, type, and length of the ladder. As the ladder is an object that engages our whole body, it can be closely linked with our whole identity.
More importantly, apart from the specific attributes of the ladder, Gestalt dreamwork would ask us to consider our thoughts and feelings as we recount the act of climbing up or down ladders in our dreams.
For example, if we dream of climbing a broken ladder, then this can reflect our struggle as we deal with pain within ourselves. The fear and uncertainty we may feel while climbing this ladder can reflect the dread that we feel in having to face this pain.
Likewise, if we dream about going up a ladder with someone or something waiting for us at the top then this can embody our drive and determination to achieve our goals, reflected in our anticipation as we come closer to the top of the ladder.
In dreams, ladders are more than just simple tools. From symbols of transformation to representations of our innermost emotions, ladders in our dreams can be a pathway toward discovering and realizing our thoughts and feelings.
Even mundane objects in dreams can help us gain insight into ourselves. By consciously examining their meaning, we may climb up the ladder of self-discovery to attain higher levels of emotional maturity and psychological self-awareness.
Belk, R. W. (1988). Possessions and the extended self. Journal of Consumer Research, 15(2), 139–168. https://academic.oup.com/jcr/article-abstract/15/2/139/1841428?redirectedFrom=fulltext
Cunha, I. (2022). The feminine entrapped within a fruit: A Jungian interpretation. Chiron Publications. https://books.google.com/books?id=b-F3EAAAQBAJ&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&lpg=PT126&dq=&pg=PT126#v=onepage&q=&f=false
Freud, S. (1915). The interpretation of dreams. G. Allen & Unwin. https://books.google.com/books?id=OSYJAAAAIAAJ&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&dq=&pg=PA247#v=onepage&q&f=false
Jung, C. G. (2021). Dream symbols of the individuation process: Notes of C. G. Jung’s seminars on Wolfgang Pauli’s dreams. Princeton University Press. https://books.google.com/books?id=6cQyEAAAQBAJ
Jung, C. G. (2014). Psychology and alchemy. Routledge. https://books.google.com/books?id=77DgBQAAQBAJ
Jung, C. G. (2014). The archetypes and the collective unconscious. Routledge. https://books.google.com/books?id=hmXfBQAAQBAJ&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&lpg=PP1&dq=&pg=PA3#v=onepage&q&f=false
Koch-Sheras, P. R., Lemley, A., & Sheras, P. L. (2000). The dream sourcebook & journal: A guide to the theory and interpretation of dreams. Barnes & Noble. https://books.google.com/books?id=v7St5WrrugsC
Maggiolini, A., Persico, A., & Crippa, F. (2007). Gravity content in dreams. Dreaming, 17(2), 87–97. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2007-09283-003
Malinowski, J. E., & Horton, C. L. (2015). Metaphor and hyperassociativity: The imagination mechanisms behind emotion assimilation in sleep and dreaming. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1132. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4539471/pdf/fpsyg-06-01132.pdf
Mann, D. (2020). Gestalt therapy: 100 key points and techniques. Routledge. https://books.google.com/books?id=1fn1DwAAQBAJ&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&lpg=PT290&dq=&pg=PT290#v=onepage&q&f=false
Mattoon, M. A. (2012). Dreams. In R. K. Papadopoulos (Ed.), The handbook of Jungian psychology: Theory, practice and applications. Routledge. https://books.google.com/books?id=Ygh1B62BtboC&lpg=PT267&pg=PT266#v=onepage&q&f=false
Quinodoz, J.M. (2013). Reading Freud: A chronological exploration of Freud’s writings. Routledge. https://books.google.com/books?id=I0tdAgAAQBAJ&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&lpg=PA42&dq=&pg=PA42#v=onepage&q&f=false
Rand, N., & Torok, M. (1993). Questions to Freudian psychoanalysis: Dream interpretation, reality, fantasy. Critical Inquiry. https://books.google.com/books?id=OSYJAAAAIAAJ&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&dq=&pg=PA247#v=onepage&q&f=false
Roesler, C. (2023). Dream interpretation and empirical dream research – an overview of research findings and their connections with psychoanalytic dream theories. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 104(2), 301–330. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00207578.2023.2184268
Samuels, A., Shorter, B., & Plaut, F. (2012). A critical dictionary of Jungian analysis. Routledge. https://books.google.com/books?id=rY8jpom4BK0C&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&lpg=PP1&dq=&pg=PA76#v=onepage&q&f=false
Schept, S. (2007). Jacob’s dream of a ladder: Freudian and Jungian perspectives. Psychological Perspectives, 50(1), 113–121. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00332920701319533
Shafton, A. (1995). Dream reader: Contemporary approaches to the understanding of dreams. SUNY Press. https://books.google.com/books?id=90Vh8wUThAgC&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&lpg=PA51&dq=&pg=PA51#v=onepage&q&f=false
Stern, J. M. (2020). Jacob’s ladder: Logics of magic, metaphor and metaphysics. Sophia, 59(2), 365–385. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11841-017-0592-y
von Franz, M.-L. (2017). Individuation in fairy tales: Revised edition. Shambhala Publications. https://books.google.com/books?id=g0hEDgAAQBAJ&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&lpg=PP1&dq=&pg=PT8#v=onepage&q&f=false
von Franz, M.L-., & Boa, F. (1988). The way of the dream. Windrose Films. https://books.google.com/books?id=a39-AAAAMAAJ
Woldt, A. L., & Toman, S. M. (2005). Gestalt therapy: History, theory, and practice. SAGE. https://books.google.com/books?id=Kp_sfy6XSE8C&lpg=PA109&vq=&pg=PA109#v=onepage&q&f=false