The Primary Love Template

In the 1990s neuroscientists monitored the prefrontal cortex of a monkey as the monkey viewed a researcher eat a nut the monkey desired. The researchers noticed that particular cells in the monkey’s brain acted in an identical fashion as if the monkey had eaten the nut himself.[i]  This led to the exciting new discovery termed mirror neurons. Theories about how empathy, human bonding and social attachment possibly being hardwired in our frontal cortex by the mirroring effect of neurons immediately flourished. Neuropsychologists and brain researchers around the world are currently studying mirror neurons. I wonder if this is how infants develop what I term primary love templates. The following information comes from my book, The Promise of Wholeness: Cultivating Inner Peace, Mindfulness, and Love in a Divided World, (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2019, pages 34-38). 

When a toddler imitates parents we may proudly proclaim, “He’s a chip off the old block.” This acknowledgement reinforces the ongoing mimicking behavior of the mirror neurons but also encourages children to encode parental behavior patterns as a survival strategy. All the positive or negative sensations we experience during our formative years are encrypted in neural circuits as forms of love. Similarly to the gravitational force on earth, mental patterns and the expectation of love are very compelling. We treat ourselves this way internally and externally treat others similarly from this first love template until we have a reason to reexamine it. A primary love template has two phases of self-awareness:

The initial phase of the primary love template occurs when:

  1. Children accept the entire positive and negative milieu witnessed while growing up as normal, which becomes a primary love template.
  2. Every behavioral pattern, emotional reaction and mental belief system our parents/caregivers model is encoded into neural circuits and mirrored patterns and is then recycled internally and/or This is why abused youth often link love with pain or believe negative self-talk is normal while maturing. Self- actualized parents model optimism and opportunity to children this same way.
  3. Children pass through the “second phase of awareness” as the models are hardwired into life scripts; they then proceed to treat themselves in similar ways.

The crucial points of the second phase of the primary love template include:

  • Parental models become prescriptive templates that children recycle As adults they treat themselves in similar ways throughout life until they realize that they reproduced these templates within themselves.
  • Children internalize and/or replicate both the spectacular and dysfunctional familial neural circuits in this manner externally until they realize what they are
  • As adults they then attract people, places and especially lovers that will mirror every spectacular and dysfunctional template buried within until they see their reflection, reach a resolution and address each

The second phase of self-awareness reminds us to appreciate our spectacular and dysfunctional scripts that were originally encrypted in our primary love template. Unraveling our own riddles and the illusions provided by others is daunting. Even though we inadvertently recycle parental/caregiver patterns of neglect, abuse and even success, what happens in our life and the challenges we experience is ours to resolve. Reviewing any productive and unproductive reoccurring patterns we have experienced throughout our life enables conscious choices. If we notice that we have recycled a primary love template based on other people’s illusions, it may be challenging for us to address on our own. Brutal self-knowledge is critical to untangling dysfunctional templates on our own.


[i] Giacomo Rizzolatti, et al., “Premotor Cortex and the Recognition of Motor Actions,” Cognitive Brain Research 3 (1996): 131–141.Albert Einstein, paraphrase of energy equivalence from his “Theory of Special Relativity,”1905.