Abstract We prove the existence of spatially localized ground states of the diffusive Haken model. This model describes a self-organizing network whose elements are arranged on a d-dimensional lattice with short-range diffusive coupling. The network evolves according to a competitive gradient dynamics in which the effects of diffusion are counteracted by a localizing potential that incorporates an additional global coupling term. In the absence of diffusive coupling, the ground states of the system are strictly localized, i.e. only one lattice site is excited. For sufficiently small non-zero diffusive coupling α, it is shown analytically that localized ground states persist in the network with the excitations exponentially decaying in space. Numerical results establish that localization occurs for arbitrary values of α in one dimension but vanishes beyond a critical coupling α c ( d), when d > 1. The one-dimensional localized states are interpreted in terms of instanton solutions of a continuum version of the model.